Cooking is the New Communism
This is the year of no illusions. I woke up sometime in January and could sense distinctly, for the first time, which parts of my body were muscle and which parts were not. Wine (my most favorite thing), literally makes me ill, all of a sudden. My eyes close reflexively at about nine pm. All I want to do is write, garden, cook, or read, and I don’t worry so much about money anymore because I’m fully in touch with how everything I do and enjoy doesn’t work for capitalism and I’m finished pretending that it does.
I’ve come into my most sound quaintness. I’ve kicked and screamed a little along the way (mostly about the wine “allergy”) but the truth is I don’t give a damn. I’m walking through the woods, not leaving breadcrumbs as I go, and I know full and well what’s at the end of this path. Bring it. I’ll enjoy the trees and rocks on the way.
I’ll admit, sometimes I find my brain falling backward, if that’s a way to characterize it. These last few years there is the sense that aging or coming-along has been the focus of my body and my soul, and my mind has been alternately out to lunch or fully on board at random intervals. So, falling backward I guess is just that interval in which my brain gets lost in a memory of youth, which makes all the trees look like terror and anxiety and all the rocks look like gold coins. And the chipmunks and woodland creatures are other people, I guess, acting like they know how many fucks I give. And I’m confused enough to be hanging out with them and listening to what they say. Falling forward, then, is when the brain gets back with the program and goes oh, right. Oops. And…carry on. What lovely trees.
My fiancé admitted the other night that he feels like I’m oddly balanced, though there was a moment or two when he wondered if I was headed squarely for insane. I had zero argument with this assessment. I was like yeah I know! Me too. I couldn’t (and didn’t) promise him that that was over (which you should read as a sign of my growing wisdom? idk).
So, the focus is renewed. When you’re ready to quit kidding yourself, and you’ve started kicking habits that were entirely built from kidding yourself, you get a new lease on life. How will you fill your days? I’m at home with the nature of my work, which is based on drawing attention to solutions to problems with food and agriculture, in a world where the majority of people are not interested in solving problems in food and agriculture. I continue to tackle the work as I can, but I am less in earnest to convince us all what it is that should be done. I met a younger cipher of myself at a bar in Asheville the other night. She was lovely, smooth-faced, and rightly emotional about farming. And then she said, “But I don’t think it works, you know?” Ahem. Yes, I do know. She went on, “And I’m certain there isn’t my career in it.” And then her eyes were searching my face for some reaction, as I swallowed my motherly admiration for this woman. And I said, among other things:
I think you’re very smart.
I drove home wondering whether all the millennials are as smart as she is, and if they are I need to lickety-split get to saying all the truths in my work, instead of avoiding them with pretty pictures of good food. Good food doesn’t matter enough anymore. Cooking is the new communism. And farming. Well, farming always was.
I’m in pretty consistent conversation with my children and my students about the conundrum of doing the right thing, which is the slog you say when everyone is captive in the backseat or the kitchen staff meeting: we don’t stop doing the right thing even when it’s not understood, accepted, or popular. And so, yes, I’m still rightly emotional about farming, and woke up this morning discovering that I had actually been dork dreaming about a bumper sticker that says “We Still Cook.” The fact of the matter is that there are a dwindling number of people who can afford to do the right thing, and this is the year of no illusions.
What I’m doing for now is naming it. We have to keep learning, keep moving, and keep building regenerative agriculture and food systems, and we have to simultaneously keep ourselves from getting sentimental and anemic along the way. What does that mean? Well, it means talking about the fact that many young farmers are not making it, it means talking about the fact that there are higher barriers to access for farmers of color. It means saying out loud the fact that our non-profit sector is doing pretty OK at providing resources and funding for young and decently privileged growers, but not so much knocking it out of the park with marginalized stakeholders and farmers who have been in business for more than 10 years. It means talking the truth about how trickle down ideals DON’T WORK— simply expecting a larger market share of clean food does NOT mean that it will become magically more accessible to all. and politics? smh.
If you’re blindly trumpeting that people should eat meat to save the planet because ethically raised meat has the potential to sequester carbon, be more clear. Most of the meat available to most of the people is wreaking havoc on animals, people, and the environment. So-don’t spend time bitching out vegans on Facebook, go read the literature on the fine line between cow farts and soil carbon sinks. Go seed your pig lot so it’s part of the solution, not the problem. And, yes, I’m talking to myself here, too.
I’m changing up charcuterie intensives, adding new content, and edgier takeaways. No, kids, it’s not just about sausage. I’m adding a massive community component, with donations from proceeds into social justice in every community I visit. I’m taking the time to reach out to everyone I can find working in good food in every town I visit to say hello, this is what I’m doing, in solidarity with what you are doing. And to say thank you.
On March 8th, I’m giving a class on Integrated Animal Agriculture. And while that sounds like another hoot and holler about Alan Savory and dung and urine, it is going to be more like an honest look at where we’re at with this. I am reading the literature. I am liquidating pigs and changing management. And don’t read that and think it’s going to be a rant and rave toward farmers, because it will be exactly the opposite. It will be a look-those-brave-folk-in-the-eye and a discussion about the different approaches to do what they are doing, and what all it is actually doing for the planet. It will be a frank discussion of whether everything they are doing for the planet is actually good for their business. And then— whether everything they are doing is actually something their spirit and health can carry, day after long day after day.
We cannot afford to become complacent and distilled into social media memes. We also cannot afford to have brilliant people, young and old, run into the ground trying to make this work, and failing. In this year of no illusion, I will continue to speak my truth about the tightrope that is this activism. This work we are doing is not proven, is unprecedented, is risky, is ridiculed, and is therefore very very much in need of our many brains, falling forward and not backward. You can work every single day in as challenging an environment as this and still find calm, cheer, and contentment. Wendell Berry said “Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts,” That is what I call coming along, right aging, growing wisdom, no illusions.
So. That’s enough for today. Get your boots on, do not despair. You are needed. Thank you. Thank you, thank you. Even as I’m getting older I feel I still cannot say that enough.