The return of the pastoral


  • Michael Pollan, in Sunday's New York Times, writes an open letter to the next president about the need for a complete overhaul of our farming and food system. (It's long, but it's well worth reading.)
  • There's a petition for an organic farm to be planted on the South Lawn of the White House (a gesture Pollan also endorses).
  • Colleges have begun teaching about agriculture and "ecogastronomy."
  • There's apparently a movement afoot to revive the World War II-era "victory garden" in the age of climate change, fuel scarcity, and food shortages.

I'm of two minds about all of this. Part of me sees the emphasis on a renewal of localized, traditional agriculture in the light of 2000-plus years of the pastoral poetry tradition. And there is a nostalgia for an idealized rural past behind a lot of the discourse about local food: not a past where preternaturally literate shepherds piped on oaten straws, but a pre-factory-farming past, when people knew where their food came from, when oranges and bananas were a luxury if you didn't live in a tropical climate, when families sat down to dinner together, and so on.

But the other side of me, the side that loves farmers' markets and fully expects that we'll be in for a nasty shock when oil supplies really start to run low, is deeply interested in learning how to grow my own food, especially with the economy circling the drain. That same side of me is weighing the options for doing some container herb and vegetable gardening on the little deck outside my apartment next year, and wondering if anyone else in New London is interested in getting a community garden going. I suspect part of it is a sign of wanting to learn more practical skills in the face of doom and gloom. Call it a victory garden or call it an apotropaic gesture; I just want to do something tangible to deal with the free-floating anxiety, even if it's only planting some tomatoes. (And green onions! And salad greens! And rosemary! Of course, this also has something to do with my preexisting fondness for produce.)

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