By Tom Philpott
Mar 18, 2011
The last couple of days have been gloomy ones. I kept checking in with the vague and dire reports from the nuclear-power bleeding edge in Japan. For part of the time I was also immersed in a post about truly awful things going on in the U.S. poultry industry. While digging into the industry's routine abuse of farmers and reckless endangering of public health, I was haunted by the thought that these were the folks on whom we're supposed to be counting to "feed the world" going forward, according to the likes of The Economist and certain factions of the Obama administration. Sigh.
And then I came across an interview with Wendell Berry, arguably industrial agriculture's greatest critic, on the Earth Eats website. Berry was holding forth on what it takes to be a proper critic of industrial agriculture, the role I've chosen as my métier. Berry said:
But you can't be a critic by simply being a griper and collecting instances of things that seem to demand griping about. One has also to be a proper critic to search out the examples of good work, good land use, and of simple goodness that can give you some kind of standard of judgment along with the ecological health that is also an inescapable standard of judgment.
Berry's admonishment reminded me that as grim as the Big Picture often seems, it isn't the whole picture. Sure, Big Oil lurches on, unimpeded by the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the slow-motion calamity of climate change. Nukes, too, will likely survive the latest proof that nuclear power concentrates too much risk to ever really make sense. Even so, millions of people are working across the globe to create clean, low-risk energy systems based on wind and sun, and community-sharing schemes like mass transit.
And in the food space, examples abound. Just look at the growth of community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs since 1984. CSAs form direct links between farms and their surrounding communities, and allow consumers to become active citizens who share some of the inherent risk of farming. As the 15-second video below shows, more and more people are stepping up to that opportunity: