Thursday, July 31, 2008


Conservative. Liberal. Centrist. Marxist. Fascist. Pissant scum sucking spawn of a three-nippled miscreant who heedlessly drags his scabrous, hairy knuckles over the dried blood of his betters as he slouches towards World of Warcraft and a bag of Cheetos. Defender of traditional culture. Doctrinaire leftist. Troglodyte. Elitist post modernist lackey of an intelectually bankrupt cabal of tomato-nosed poseurs and assorted hillbilly geezers.

Yeah, yeah.

They's out to label us, y'all. They's got these here categories that we all fit. Gotta fit. They's got this here meat axe to help us fit if'n some part of us happens to -- you know -- poke out a bit. A surgical strike on the categorically offending bits 'n' chunks is all it takes to preserve they's ontologically sound categoies.

Take a look at this. It's an essay in The American Conservative by a doctoral candidate in philosophy at UC Berkeley name of John Schwenkler. The topic is food. Food as an economic object. Food as an expression of politics. Food as an integral part of our connection to the earth and to each other.

Food is a portion of the earth which we select with care, ritually purify with fire and take into our bodies. Okay, I added that part myself, but it's not altogether alien from the author's statement that "Leanring to regard a meal as not merely something that fills our bellies and helps us grow, but as the consummate exercise of being carnal and earthbound yet upwardly and outwardly drawn, is a crucial step in the restoration of culture." Not for nothing does the Christian sacrament of communion involve eating. Not for nothing does the Seder revolve around a meal. Not for nothing do the laws of Halal require that each animal slaughtered for food be a sacrifice to God, offered with a prayer. I'm just not altogether certain about the restoration of culture part. Maybe that's just me.

But Schwenkler has other fish to fry. He's looking at the slow food movement and what have come to be called "locavores" and so-called "crunchy conservatives" through the lens of American conservatism. And lo! Alice Waters and Michael Pollan might have some worthwhile things to offer. In fact, except for some "elitist" and "Marxist" lapses in their choice of language, the darlings are actually conservatives!

I'm here to suggest that the labels are less than helpful.

Not far from my home in exurban NE Texas lives a family of evangelicals who home school their too numerous children and raise chickens and lambs. Their farm is beyond organic. No herbicides. No pesticides. No hormones. No antibiotics. No certification of organic status, even (it's not meaningful to their project). They do so for reasons they've derived from their religious practice. They live according to the laws of their faith, as they understand them.

I do not live according to those laws. Lord knows I do not. And yet I've eaten their chicken and the meat of their lambs. I bought those things from them because of my desire to resist factory food. Also because it was delicious. This has nothing to do with the agenda of any political party or with being liberal or conservative. Those are hollow ideas. Empty categories into which we need not fit. Indeed, they are caricatures.

Schwenkler, in fact, exhibits an intelligence which is capable of taking "a closer look" at the pronouncements and stated beliefs of many of the food folk he examines. Looking closer is exactly what is needed, not ideology. What is needed is not a willingness to stuff ideas into an ideologically acceptable Procrustean bed, but a pragmatic approach to specific situations, and he says as much. For too long big corporations and big governmental agencies have made big decisions about our food supply. When I bought half a hog from a local farmer last fall, it came from the slaughter house wrapped in plastic bearing the legend "not for sale." That was because the folks who raised it and the folks who processed it were not big enough for USDA certification. Is my concern about that liberal (don't like big corporations) or is it conservative (don't like big government)?

What difference does it make?

My teacher Joe Barnhardt, who was shot last Sunday because he's a liberal said in a taped interview this week that most liberals he knows are just like most conservatives he knows in that they don't shoot each other about it. He's heir to the great American Pragmatist tradition in philosophy. We need to see what will work. And when it stops working as well as it should, we need to see what else works. We don't really need much by way of names and labels for ideas. Especially not when it leads to ossified thinking.

Worrying about elitists an fuzzy-headed Marxists and whether big government or big business started the agribusiness mess first is supremely unhelpful.

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