Growing up, the future was full of the miracle of scientifically cultivated food. All of our nutrients would come from engineered kelp or test-tube chicken. Food, regardless of how it tasted, would be filling, nutritious, and cheap. We humans would take the things that nature provided in abundance and improve them, perfecting those things to meet our specific needs.
Here in the future, things aren’t working out quite that way, it seems.
Michael Pollan is the author of a handful of books about food in the United States. You may have heard his pithy “food rules”?
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
There’s a short book you can buy, Food Rules, that explains and expands on these seven words. Pollan is one of the journalists, scientists, and activists concerned that the way of American eating is killing not merely people, but the planet. His food rules are a tool designed to help people navigate their way to eating in a manner that is better for everyone.
I’m reading another Pollan book at the moment, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. If you want to know why Pollan thinks U.S. factory agri-industry is bad for everyone, this is the book to read. I’m not going to summarize it here, y’all can go read it.
I keep going back and forth on whether I’m going to finish the book. My question is, what am I going to do with the information I will learn? Fifteen years ago, I read Animal Liberation, and stopped eating meat. I could not know the things that book told me, eat meat, and be the kind of person I wanted to be. Since un-knowing the information was not an option, I could stop eating meat or learn to be the kind of person who could participate in the factory-farming-system. I stopped eating meat.
So what am I going to do with the information in The Omnivore’s Dilemma? If the facts in that book create a similar cognitive dissonance, a similar fracture between practice and self-image, what am I going to do? Which part will give?
Likely, what will give is my current practices. And I will become the sort of person who shops locally-sourced organic produce at the co-op, or through a CSA. But … But shopping at Target is easy. And I can continue doing so just as long as I am ignorant. Can I keep doing so if I am deliberately, willfully, intentionally ignorant? Or do I need to finish this book in order to continue claiming the ethics I say I have? Is it enough to buy whole fruits and vegetables and do a lot of my own cooking? Or does my participation in the international GMO produce chain conflict with something I hold dear?
Well. I can tell you already, I’m going to finish the book. I can’t deliberately not know. If my household has a creed, part of that creed is Merlin’s speech from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King:
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
So, I can’t just … not know. And I am not sure what I will do when I finish.