A Critique of Wendell Berry's "The Pleasures of Eating"

At the end of the essay, Berry juxtaposes the emptiness of industrial eating with what he calls “extensive pleasure.” This is the pleasure that is not wedded to the sensual, tactile, or gustatory—what Berry terms the pleasure of the “mere gourmet”—but emerges from “one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.” The pleasure of eating for Berry is not intrinsic to the experience of eating, but extrinsic to it, deriving instead from the knowledge of the food’s journey from life to plate. Which is to say that, he is not, in fact, talking about the pleasure of eating in any sort of conventional, literal, or phenomenological sense. Rather what we have here is a repackaging of the pleasure of work: you can only take real satisfaction from the memory of the labor and care you invested in whatever it is you are munching on. This becomes all the more apparent when we read Berry’s program for how the “industrial eater” can obtain extensive pleasure, which Berry dubiously asserts “is pretty fully available to the urban consumer who will make the necessary effort.” Want pleasure? Get to work! Berry’s suggestions are a familiar list of foodie chores: 1) “Participate in food production to the extent that you can.” 2) “Prepare your own food.” 3) “Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home.” 4) “Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist.” 5) “Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production.” 6) “Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.” 7) “Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of the food species.”

Read all of "Sexuality Studies for Foodies" by Gabriel Rosenberg at The Strong Paw of Reason.


Reflections on Wendell Berry's The Art of Loading Brush

Despite at times feeling as though my entire life is a casualty of modernity’s ills while reading Berry, “The Art of Loading Brush” is a fantastic book. With an authority and complexity that only comes from experience, Berry’s writing on farming, local communities and human connection to the land is beautifully instructive. The book is a collection of essays, short stories and poems that explore much of what Berry has spent his entire life writing about — considerations of ethics and aesthetics, individual and cultural, in the context of politics, economics and community living.  

Read "My Introduction to Agrarianism" by Sharon Spaulding at The Daily Campus.

And follow it with "An agrarian vocabulary" also by Sharon Spaulding.


Wirzba on Soil, Garden and Wendell Berry

Among contemporary writers, few have understood and articulated these insights as well as Wendell Berry. Whether in the form of poetry, story, or essay, Berry has argued that apart from a people’s commitment to repair and nurture particular places and communities, the world comes to ruin. His call to “return to the land” is not the expression of some romantic yearning to relocate urbanites within an agrarian arcadia that never existed. The issue is not relocation, but the development of the sympathies and skills that make for an enduring, responsible, and beautiful livelihood. One doesn’t need a farm to do that. All one needs is a place within which to learn to exercise care and commitment. He knows it won’t be easy, especially in cultures characterized by speed, rootlessness, and a spectator approach to life.

Read all of "The Ground of Hospitality" by Norman Wirzba at Plough.

 


Reflecting on Wendell Berry and Cory Booker's Veganism

Wendell Berry, the poet, essayist, environmental activist, and farmer, once wrote that “eating is an agricultural act.” This is a statement that should both liberate us and implicate us — we are actors in the food economy, and every decision we make about what we eat and where we buy our food from is a vote for a direction that the food economy will continue upon, or newly take, to meet consumer demand. Unfortunately, most of us are extremely disconnected from our food’s lineage, and we’re unaware of our active role in the series of relationships that is global in scope. Our role, however, isn’t merely as passive consumers, although the industrial food economy prefers the relationship between the citizenry and the food on their plates from grocery stores to be an entirely transactional one.

Senator Cory Booker (D., N.J.) has somewhat called attention to the environmental impact that our eating decisions make in comments he made to VegNews. Booker says that the planet can’t sustain people eating the quantities of meat they eat today, and that Americans need to be encouraged to switch to eating fake cheese in order to mitigate the “environmental impact” that the “standard American diet” is making. Booker became a vegan after initially becoming a vegetarian in 1992. He also noted that his friends who are lovers of cheese have tried the fake stuff and loved it — and that the pizza at the New Jersey VegFest was phenomenal.

Read all of "A Wendell Berry Solution to Cory Booker's Problem" by Marlo Safi at National Review.


"Eating as Discipleship"

Wendell Berry's famous statement that "eating is an agricultural act" has motivated many to reconsider the agricultural systems our eating habits promote. Yet Berry's writings also contend that eating is a spiritual act; when we eat, we enact our relationship with the rest of creation and with the Creator. Unfortunately, the social architecture of the developed world encourages us to imagine food as a fuel that we consume. We're trained to treat food as a commodity whose sole purpose is to satisfy our desires and give us energy. 

Lisa Graham McMinn's To the Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming, and Community joins a chorus of other books that call Christians to resist this consumerist view of food. McMinn's book begins with Leslie Leyland Fields's proclamation that "food is nothing less than Sacrament." In defending this view, McMinn—a sociologist and co-owner of a CSA—adds her voice to the growing number of books and blogs celebrating farmers' markets, gardening, and home cooking.

Read all of "Eating as Discipleship" by Jeffrey Bilbro at Comment.


Mary Berry Interviewed

Founded in 2011, the Berry Center aims to put her father’s writings to work: advocating for the farmers, land conservation and healthy regional economies. Berry spoke to Jane Black about her family’s legacy and her vision to support small sustainable farms. Edited excerpts follow:

Black: Your father, Wendell Berry, is a hero to so many people in the sustainable agriculture movement. But your work at the Berry Center honors not only his work, but your uncle and grandfather’s too.

Berry: My father says that his father did the important work. He and John, his brother, took it up. The work my grandfather did—and he would not have said it this way, but I will—was as the principle author of the Burley Tobacco Program, which was voted in in 1942 and ended about 11 years ago. It brought a stable economy to farmers in the eight-state Burley tobacco region. It protected them from over production, allowed them to plan an economic year, and it fostered a lot of intangibles like the ability for rural life to thrive.

Black: What did the program do?

Berry: It offered price support, not a subsidy. And it didn’t cost the federal government anything. It offered farmers stability—a market they could count on. For example, years ago we bought a 200-acre farm with a five-acre tobacco base, and that’s what we made our farm payment with. We borrowed money against the tobacco crop because we knew what that tobacco would bring. The rest of the farm was highly diversified. It was farming that fit the farm.

Read more at Stone Barns Center


Ode-ing Wendell Berry

As the title of this entry would suggest, there is an inspiration of sorts. This past year, four of the eight courses I took at the College of Wooster were exclusively on the environment, farming, society, etc. It was in one of these classes, Rural Society & the Environment, that I experienced a transformation in my perception of myself as well as the world around me. I was also introduced to my newfound idol: Wendell Berry.

Now, having finished reading Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry I find I have drunk the Kool-Aid. Berry possesses the ability to make poetry of the every day rustic while providing a deeper analysis of society at large. Beyond that, his words are laced with a wisdom that is applicable to all parts of life. And so, each section of this post will be entitled with a quote of his, from the book or otherwise.

“Eating is an agricultural act.” – The Pleasure of Eating (1989)

I say I found myself in Paris, but the truth is I found myself in Montefalco. Working on a winery sounds glamorous and I’m sure my Instagram posts about freshly cut wheels of pecorino cheese and world-renowned awards have not helped change that perception. In truth, I live on a farm. A winery after all is a farm where they specialize in a singular product: grapes.

Read more at Crina Babina


Wendell Berry, Grant Wood and the American Farmer

Grant Wood’s 1930 painting of a pitchfork-wielding farm couple heralds our return to Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. How to interpret this portrait?  How to interpret American Gothic, which to my mind means the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe.  Through the lens ofThe Unsettling of America, an interpretation becomes clear; these farmers have disappeared, have sold their land to an agribusiness, and have longed ago moved to the city.  If there is a land ethic in their faces, that has been replaced with specialists.

Read more at Magic Fish Bones


Of Interest: Vandana Shiva Speaks in Kanas City

The 61-year-old physicist, ecologist and author from Delhi, India then served up a penetrating deconstruction of the mechanistic mindset and the industrial food system it has spawned. This is the same mindset Walmart and Target now intend to apply to organic food.

“For a short time,” Shiva said, “the mechanistic mind has projected onto the world the false idea that food production is and must be of necessity an industrial activity. That’s a world view that is in profound error.”

“When food becomes a commodity it loses its quality, its taste, and its capacity to provide true nutrition,” she said. Industrial agriculture turns the earth into units of production, farmers into high-tech sharecroppers, and is the single biggest contributor to our declining environment. She said industrial agriculture distorts the proper relationship between humans and the natural world.

Read more at The Call of the Land.


Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson

Last Friday three men at the heart of my passion for the intellectual investigation of food systems spoke at Cooper Union about Nature as Measure. In the forward to the eponymously titled book, Wendell Berry quotes longtime friend and the book's author Wes Jackson saying, "Do not try to improve on this patch of native prairie for it will serve as your standard by which to judge your agricultural practices. There is no higher standard..." In other words, no human intervention can create a more perfect natural world because nature is perfection. Just as one man quoted from the other in print, so too did the two men share glimpses of their intimate relationship on stage by completing their responses to Mark Bittman's prompts with quotes from each other's long histories of writings.

via Runaway Apricot