Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seven Billion Co-Producers

I recently read an article in the latest National Geographic about the impending seven billion world population.  It was a good article, and I fell immediately into a deep sleep on the sofa after finishing it.    When I was awakened I blurted out- I can never have children!  Now that I have regained my senses I am thinking much more clearly about that whole matter.  Although much of the article talked about the rapid rate of population growth, the gist of the article was focused on the consumption of the people more than the number.  It's not the people themselves that are harming the planet, it's really more about what the people are DOING with themselves after they are born.  And of course we all know who we are REALLY talking about- ourselves.  India and China may be the most populated, but we are by far far far and away the hugest consumers.   Of course, the densely populated slums of India are causing their own problems but that is what I let other people work with.    What I am really interested in, more than anything else, is what my neighbors are eating.

We were talking the other day about STUFF.  It's nice to be on the lower level of middle class because that means I don't even have very much money to spend on stuff.  But even if I did I sometimes wonder what it would be spent on.... more bacon maybe?  Or I bet I would order fair trade produced fabric or chocolate over the internet.  I might get a new wok, or maybe some really nice handmade shoes.   I realized the other day that there are people I occasionally bump elbows with who spend $18 dollars on jeans from Wal-Mart because that is what poor people do, and don't have enough in their budget to buy local, sustainably grown food because that is what rich people do.  I would NEVER spend $18 on jeans, even if I wore jeans.  I certainly wouldn't buy them, or anything else, from Wal-Mart.  I would go to the Goodwill, spend $5 on a beautiful wool skirt and take that $13 and get on over to the market and buy me some grits.  And kale, carrots, and a couple bright red beets.

I am very lucky to have been brought up this way.  I once told a friend that we didn't have a TV when we were growing up because we were too poor, and he laughed at me.   It is partially true, but not all the way.  I'm sure we didn't have a TV because there were better things to do, but I have the feeling that if my parents had an extra $500 to spend, it would not be spent on a TV.  That was not in any way the priority.  Somewhere along the way we were given a TV which was not turned down, thereby exposing me to a few years of Sesame Street and whatever else my brother and I could scrape out of PBS before the TV blew up.   I am told that I found the Painting By Number hour fascinating.  There actually ARE people out there who are too poor to buy a TV.  And they own one.  This was illustrated so well in Peter Menzel's book, Material World.  It is a book of photographs of families around the world with all of their possessions hauled out of their homes.  The image that sticks with me most clearly is a family on a tiny boat in China, in it are their fishing ducks, traps, a cooking pot, sleeping mats, and a TV run on a tiny generator.  I may not have everything in the photo correct but you get the idea.  I just remember thinking, seriously, a TV?  

Nomadic Family- somewhere in China, photograph by Huang Qingjun

A TV is just a token example, not really what I mean.  I currently own a TV, not for channels, which I don't get, not even PBS, but for Netflix.   The point, which I'm sure everyone understands, is that what your children are eating is much more important than what they are watching on TV.   This is really a much bigger topic than I am really interested in getting into right now, or really ever.  That is what my smarter friends are for.   I am just reminding yall of this- what the article said- It's too late to keep the new middle class of 2030 from being born. But it's not too late to change the way we all consume.

Speaking on consuming, after I heard Carlo Petrini speak at the CDC almost a year ago I learned a whole new way of thinking about consumption.  Since I don't see the need to re-word what I already wrote, I'll just stick it here:

"But rarely do you hear an international modern leader speak so humbly and yet so radically.  All Slow Food stands for is sustainable community.  It doesn’t even stand for McDonald’s bashing- although that might be where the name came from.  Slow Food, or should I say Carlo Petrini, doesn’t want to go around tearing down fast food restaurants.  We, the Slow Fooders, don’t have time for that.  Slow Food stands for moderate consumption of local food grown healthily, traditionally, and moderately by real small-time men and women who are proud to be human.   We are proud to carry human traits like umami, anger, love, greed, guilt, compassion, and generosity.

Petrini also said he doesn’t like the word consumption- it is and sounds like a disease.  We are not consumers, we are co-producers.  As eaters of food we are co-producing with the farmers.  We can make the choice (which sadly we have to do just that, make a choice) to become a fellow producer with the farmers who grow our food.  So when we buy a bunch of collard greens (Carlo’s new favorite southern delicacy), we are choosing to stand beside the farmer in the field where these greens are from.  If we buy collards from California in mid-summer we might very well be sweating in the sun with our Latin American brethren.  As a consumer we can return to our cush homes and cook those collards in top quality consumer rated pots but the people we worked the fields with that day might not have the same dinner (and we, as aware compassionate human Americans should know what that means by now).  On the other hand, if we choose to buy collards in April from the sustainable farm down the road we can work the fields with those brethren and bring our collard dish to the local pot-luck later that night and share it amongst friends.    

The saddest thing about that last paragraph is that we aren’t actually co-producers in the present.  Surely our decisions will affect the future but right now in the present we don’t really have to co-produce.  We can eat those organic collards grown in California by our Latin American brethren and not actually feel a dern thing.  We don’t actually have to live their lives just yet.  But somebody will.   And that most likely will be my grandchildren.  

And what I like about Carlo Petrini is that he is not like me.  He does not say radical things like I do.  And yet he has somehow he gathers eight thousand “peasants” together every two years to talk; much more radical than anything I will ever do.  Terra Madre is a meeting of moderation- a gigantic pot luck- where peasants, food producers, fermenters, young business owners, leaders of community, farmers, natural dyers of cloth, weavers, basket makers, shoe repairmen, cooks, musicians, writers, painters, sculptors, cheesmakers can all get together and just COMMUNICATE.  That means to start a world-wide COMMUNITY of this simple moderation that defines humanity completely.  The title Slow Food is such a shallow name for such an important movement.   It is not about food, it’s about humanity.  We are co-producers of our life.  Everything we do is shoulder to shoulder with our neighbor. "

So, have those babies.  But feed them with love and respect for the entire planet.   Fortunately that doesn't mean to go without the necessities, but it does mean that we might need to toss the TV out the back door and open the front to some grits and collard greens.   Remember that we co-produce not only our food but also our clothes, light bulbs, and the gasoline we put in our cars.  We are working side-by-side with children in sweat shops when we purchase $18 jeans at Wal-Mart.  We are stripping the seas every time we order a tuna steak, etc, etc, etc.  You know what it means.  As I said above, WE might not actually be co-producing right now, but if we don't slow down and think about everything that passes through our hands and mouth, our grandchildren just might have to.  In a real way.  There is nothing radical about changing just a little.  See yall at the market!

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