All week I hve been reading Wendell Berry's essay collection titled Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food. It's not a long book, only about 230 pages or so, but reading Wendell Berry always takes me some time. Or rather, I should say, I need to take my time when reading Wendell Berry, because there's only so much of his writing that I can take at a time. That is because reading him is always inspirational, humbling, and scary. And that's a lot to take in while reading.
Berry is inspirational because I find what he says makes sense. In this collection, divided into three sections (Farming, Farmers, and Food), the emphasis of the chosen essays (ranging in publication dates from the early 1970s to 2006) is on why industrial agriculture is damaging our land and economy, and how small and sustainable farming practices should not only be practiced by farmers, but supported by consumers. There is nothing I can argue with in that. He is humbling because, as a small farmer himself, I think he does make the effort to practice what he preaches, and he is humbling because is writing is so clear and so beautiful.* But, as powerful and enjoyable as those first two feelings are, the end result of reading Wendell Berry is that I most often feel scared. Scared that our economy has taken us too far down the road of destroyed soil, food laden with chemicals and produced in animal factories, and oil dependence to ever go back. And, if I'm honest, scared because I DON'T WANT TO GO BACK TO THE FARM and I can't quite figure out how to live in accordance with his principles otherwise.
I think I will chat more on this one tomorrow, as I continue to read. But for today I'll leave you with the main scary thought I had, and a beautiful piece of Wendell's own writing. My scary thought was this: forget producing food in a small way; most of us, in our reliance on Costco and Wal-Mart, have given up on consuming in a small way. How do we even begin to reverse that? And now for the words of the man himself:
"But a culture disintegrates when its economy disconnects from its government, morality, and religion. If we are dismembered in our economic life, how can we be members in our communal and spiritual life? We assume that we can have an exploitive, ruthlessly competitive, profit-for-profit's-sake economy, and yet remain a decent and democractic nation, as we still apparently wish to think ourselves. This simply means that our highest principles and standards have no practical force or influence and are reduced merely to talk...
As a nation, then, we are not very religious and not very democratic, and that is why we have been destroying the family farm for the last forty years--along with other small local economic enterprises of all kinds. We have been willing for millions of people to be condemned to failure and dispossession by the workings of an economy utterly indifferent to any claims they may have had either as children of God or as citizens of a democracy." (pp. 38-39.)
Think on that for a minute or a year or so.
*I have often wondered how long it takes Berry to write one of his typical essays. They are sparkling little jewels of clarity and conciseness.