Wendell Berry is that rarest of intellectuals–a man of the ivory tower who got his hands in the dirt. An academic, author of both fiction and essay, and, most importantly, a farmer, he has written extensively since the 60s on the problems with our industrial food system, predicting many of the worst excesses that we are still fighting now. Anyone who has read Joel Salatin or Michael Pollan should go back and read Dr. Berry, whose philosophy and politics presaged their thoughts. You’ll have seen him most recently engaged in civil disobedience against mountaintop sheering in Kentucky.
His 1989 essay “The Pleasures of Eating” starts with the famous quote, “eating is an agricultural act” and ends with a list about eating responsibly. Dr. Berry describes eating–that simple daily act– as “a relationship that is inexpressibly complex.” He strives to reduce the complexity, and asks only that you be mindful of what you eat, who you eat with, and where it came from.
Berry was writing manifestos about mindful eating when Michael Pollan was just a twinkle in his father’s eye. He demands connection to your food supply, through participation in food production–”Be fully responsible for any food that you grow yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.”
Here at Not Dabbling, we follow his precept to revive “ in your own mind and life the arts of kitchen and household.”
Like all populist scientists, he wants people to learn and learn and learn. To know through conversation and through experience, through an open mind and heart. He saw it coming, long before the modern scourge of pathogen-laced, nutrient-starved industrial foods we are asked to eat. He says,
“The idea that every locality should be, as much as possible, the source of its own food makes several kinds of sense. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, the freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and influence.”
Carl Sagan famously said that we are the stuff of stars. His “we” is inclusive, really inclusive, because if we–you and I–are the stuff of stars, then so is an ear of corn, or a steer, or a mountain. They are our sisters. Says Dr. Sagan, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
And John Donne? He says that “every man’s death diminishes me” in a poem that was probably the very first thing I ever read that made me think about what it means to have a personal philosophy, in the 6th grade.
I extend it now–I have learned from Wendell Berry and Carl Sagan, and the philosopher gardeners whom I personally know, that I am connected not just to “every man” but to every blade of grass.