Based in Portland, Oregon, Harriet Fasenfest gardens, cooks, writes, teaches, and speaks on the issues of food security and justice. Her book, A Householder's Guide to the Universe, was published in fall 2010. She is currently working on a new book and curriculum guide for teaching householding and householding economics.
So what do financial meltdowns have to do with food and why do you need another amateur assessment of the fallout? The answers to those questions are “everything” and “you don’t.” But because I have been writing about the questionable premise behind economic systems themselves (or at least their role as the holy grail), it makes sense that I would want to weigh in. Somehow the current stock-market debacle has made these long days canning tomatoes easier to bear.
There are lots of ways to interpret the causes behind our current financial correction. Is it born of a lack of oversight and federal regulations? Is it about overheated markets making the cyclical and necessary adjustments? Is it a comeuppance for investor greed in the housing market?
I do not need to tell you what the consequences of distancing ourselves from tangible goods or what seeing the soil as nothing more than industry’s playground is doing. Most of you have already read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In fact, the interest of students taking my classes has shifted from fancy pantries to local ones with an ever-increasing interest in sustainable and self-reliant life systems.
What they are really talking about is returning to the wisdom of the soil in our appreciation of its real needs and not virtual ones. What we are all getting, by virtue of the financial meltdown or otherwise, is that we can no longer ignore what the real health of our economy and world is based upon. It is time, I believe, to replace the replacements with the sweat of our own brows.
And every morning when I go outside to sow, tend, or reap the harvest, I do not consider the interest I can make or credit I will extend my garden. Certainly, market principles have made their way to the good earth, but not in my back yard. There, I can release the soil from the odious requirement of bottom lines and profit. There I can stand as an equal to the soil and humbly extend my effort without promise or certainty of a return. There I will extend trust, respect, and hard work without a single note of repayment to foster the spirit of my commitment.
And when the good earth does deliver, it is in the form of food for my family, which is as tangible as it gets. Certainly these days, having a reliable and healthy food source that does not deplete the soil is pretty darn valuable.
Funny how, and when, things become valuable again.
So how shall we think about our economy these days? I suppose, when faced with eating shoes for dinner, we might get it, but now? I’m not so sure. The market has had its way in turning homespun logic on its head. Still, I’m sadly convinced we are all waiting for its return without really evaluating its failure. Oh, we are angry at the fat cats, but I say the finger we’re pointing needs to point back at ourselves. Really, it’s not all that complicated. We just came to love the stand-ins for wealth and health more then the real thing. Sad but true.
Good news: There is a way out of it. It might mean, however, that you give up shoe shopping and try getting your hands dirty. Believe me, it was hard at first, but somehow today (and for a long time ahead of us) the alternatives are a whole lot less appealing.
Postscript: Having drunk the Kool-Aid ourselves, my husband and I have decided to close out the brokerage account, pay off the mortgage, pay cash for everything, barter when possible, weatherize the house, put in a few more vegetable beds, and save even harder then before. The point? Conservation and stewardship is the new wealth-maker. Now that’s what I call a true correction.
Editor’s note: Want more Harriet? This blog post is an abbreviated version of a piece she has simultaneously posted over on the Preserve site.
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Local, Sustainable, Delicious Recipes from America’s Great Chefs
Clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops
How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems