What else is there to say about Wendell Berry?
23 February 2010
Last week I promised more thoughts on Wendell Berry's essay and story collection Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food, but I don't know that I have much more (that is coherent) to say about it.
The book is divided into three sections: Farming, Farmers, and Food. I completely loved the essays on farming, although, as with any writing that is thought-provoking, they were also somewhat disturbing. How do we turn around our frightening dependence on cheaply produced food that is bad for us, bad for the animals being raised in industrial settings, and bad for the earth? How do we start to say no to big agribusiness, and support farmers who say no to big agribusiness? How do we really affect a change without moving to the country and raising a few goats ourselves (which I really don't want to do).
The second section, on Farmers, is also very interesting, but contains essays in which Berry examines more of the nitty-gritty surrounding specific farmers who he considers masters of their craft, and how they actually do what they do. Some of these essays were a bit too detailed for me, but I did enjoy the one titled "Charlie Fisher," in which he describes the work and business of a man who responsibly cuts timber and works as a logger.
The third section, "Food," was another small wonder to behold. Here most of the pieces are not essays, but are instead snippets from Berry's stories and novels in which food and meals play a part. I loved these stories and they renewed my desire to read more of Berry's fiction (particularly his short stories). They also made me very hungry, in the best possible way. Consider:
"The Proudfoot family gahterings were famous. As feasts, as collections and concentrations of good things, they were unequaled. Especially in summer there was nothing like them, for then there would be old ham and fried chicken and gravy, and two or three kinds of fish, and hot biscuits and three kinds of cornbread, and potatoes and beans and roasting ears and carrots and beets and onions, and corn pudding and corn creamed and fried, and cabbage boiled and scalloped, and tomatoes stewed and sliced, and fresh cucumbers soaked in vinegar, and three or four kinds of pickles, and if it was late enough in the summer there would be watermelons and muskmelons, and there would be pies and cakes and cobblers and dumplings, and milk and coffee by the gallon." (p. 188.)
Oh, man, I just had breakfast, and now I'm starving again. Give this collection a try if you're already a Wendell fan; if you're new to him, concentrate primarily on the essays in the first section.