When I tell people that I’m an agricultural writer, it’s not unusual for them to ask “Do you like Wendell Berry?” — a Kentucky farmer and professor who has quietly and deeply captivated a growing segment of the U.S. population. His emphasis on living with integrity, loving one’s “place” and approaching the everyday intrigues because it goes against the dominant culture of excess, self-importance and cynicism.
Recently, I finished reading my first Wendell Berry essay in full. I loved it, for the most part. His overarching themes and central points moved me, and the following few lines keep coursing through my mind:
I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act. Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth. Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true. They think of food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as “consumers.”
Most places we go, we are told the story that we’re consumers. Driving down the interstate and seeing flashing billboards for a new car. Facebook sidebar ads for diamond rings (if you’re in a relationship), wedding dresses or tuxes (if you’re engaged), baby gear (if you’re married), and I could go on. Random magazines, fliers and emails showing up in our mailboxes and inboxes remind us of what we don’t have and what we can/should consume for the life we want. This consumerism mentality has seeped into places where others should be our focus (church, volunteer organizations, schools, etc.); we’re taught to ask “What’s in it for me?” and those places are trained to answer that question.
Consumerism. There are so many voices telling us that life is about us and that they have just the right product for us to help us live the lives we want. Consumerism. It’s a story we’re told and it’s a story we believe.
But there’s one problem. The consumer narrative is not reality.
At the heart of modern consumerism is the assumption that there is no relationship between the act of consumption and the act of production. Every time we make a purchase or engage in an activity (whether social media, clothing, electronics, etc.), we are making the production of that product viable. Our consumption equals participation. We buy into a certain set of beliefs with every action we take. Our consumption affirms certain views of the world while shunning other views.
The current narrative surrounding our food is making us more aware of the choices we make, and I am thankful for that. “Consumers” are beginning to see themselves participants, but have a difficult time meaningfully engaging with the agriculture narratives that puts food on kitchen tables.
December 2014 spurred me to hone in on my calling as an agricultural communicator (thanks to Lara Casey’s “Power Sheets”, Karen Swallow Prior’s “Fierce Convictions” and Michael Hyatt’s reflections on “Essentialism”). For now, this is my conclusion:
I tell the stories of the people, processes and places that put food on tables, with the goal of restoring our broken world. On this blog, I help suburbanites and city-dwellers connect to and participate in those stories.
This blog will, by God’s grace, be a tool to help people like me engage fully, with confidence and joy, in the agriculture narratives that are steeped in the art of the land, family heritage, the beauty of sound science, deep loss, sustainability for a purpose, and a deep of sense of vocation to steward. I have had the privilege of shaking hands with grain farmers with thousands acres who sell to “Big Ag” and organic vegetable farmers who show up at the weekly farmers’ market. I’m looking forward to delving more deeply into those stories in this virtual space so that when we go to grocery stores, fill our carts, check out and return to our homes, we know about the people, processes and places– views of the world– that are connected to our food, and in turn, our lives.
When we eat, we don’t simply consume. We always participate, whether we acknowledge it or not. By exposing ourselves to the “drama of the food economy” and choosing to engage with agriculture as participants, we have the satisfaction of living and eating with integrity.