"…we have neglected to understand that we cannot be free if our food and its sources are controlled by someone else. The condition of the passive consumer of food is not a democratic condition. One reason to eat responsibly is to live free."
Wendell Berry was a farmer, poet, activist and one of the first modern proponents of localism. At his lectures he was often asked, “What can city people do?” He would answer, “Eat responsibly.”
He later expanded on his answer in the essay “The Pleasures of Eating.” He suggested seven things for people to do to reconnect with food and regain a sense of freedom. I plan on addressing each one of these ideas in depth in future posts. Although Berry is a brillant writer and visionary, he is still ”landed gentry” and had the fortune of inherited family land and education. In my opinion, this privilege is visible in his suggestions.
I’d like to deconstruct these so they are truly democratic ideas - so a person of any income level in any living situation can participate.
Berry’s seven ideas are summarized below. The full essay is available here. Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions for future posts.
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 of the life histories of the food species.
Listen, as much as Wendell Berry may have done for a certain section of the country, remember that in low-income and/or black, Latino & Asian households, growing your own food, eating food from neighborhood spots, dealing directly with the farm—all of that is/was a given.
Here in the US, 30. 40 years ago when a POC moved into mostly white neighborhoods and grew their own food, they were looked down upon. In some areas, it still happens. In areas like Venice, Silver Lake & North Hollywood, when the gentrifying hipsters came, the first thing they did was complain about the farm animals and food gardens of their Latino and/or Asian neighbors. Nearly 20 years later and it is now happening in my current neighborhood.
When I was a child, my mother used to slaughter our turkeys for Thanksgiving and sheep for Eid. When our white neighbors across the way found out, they stopped talking to us. They thought it was low class that she got farm fresh meat. They used to laugh at 9yo me for growing vegetables and fruit. They found us strange that we’d got our milk, cheese and butter delivered straight from the dairy. It had nothing to do with “localism” or caring about the environment, it was all economics. We were broke.
Just remember that everything you just “discovered” has probably been happening right under your nose for decades.