Saturday, as I was enjoying the Indy Winter Farmers’ Market with friends, I wasn’t just shopping, though I did make a few purchases. And I wasn’t just consuming, though I did enjoy a freshly made crepe with bananas and nutella.
While I was at the farmers’ market on Saturday, I was being liberated from the trap of idealized food industrialization. That’s Wendell Berry’s way of saying that I was being a responsible eater. In his essay, “The Pleasure of Eating” in The Spirit of Food, Berry says this liberation is only possible by “restoring one’s consciousness of what is involved with eating” and “reclaiming responsibility for one’s part in the food economy.”
I’m not sure I understood this activist motive as I talked with Mike Roe about the wheat he mills in Bridgeton, Indiana. He doesn’t grow the wheat himself; his trade is milling. But I have learned a lot about wheat from him — the differences between hard and soft wheat, how they affect baking, where they grow. And when I used some of his whole wheat bread flour, ground from hard winter wheat because of the extra gluten, it was the best loaf of bread I ever made.
Talking with the folks at Simpson’s meats also didn’t leave me feeling like I was sticking it to the man. I thought I was just getting good advice on making spaghetti sauce with their sweet Italian sausage. And when they told me themselves that a little goes a long way, I believed them. Who better to offer advice on cooking their pork than the people who raise the hogs and eat the meat every day?
It’s not like I have been very far removed from food production most of my life, though. I grew up on a farm for a large chunk of my formative years, and my parents always raised a garden. But it was the “consciousness” and “responsibility” that had been lacking . When I went off to college, I had meant to leave the farm behind me.
But though I don’t currently live on a farm, the farm found its way back to my heart. Through food.
Berry describes this kind of transformation in my life in his essay.
Eaters, that is, must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.
Short of being a farmer, Berry offers the following suggestions as ways to eat agriculturally, to find the most pleasure in food. And though I don’t do them all perfectly, I commend them to you from my own life.
1.) “Participate in food production to the extent you can.”
2.) “Prepare your own food.”
3.) “Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home.”
4.) “Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist.”
5.) “Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production.”
6.) “Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.”
7.) “Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of food species.”
I am writing today, a day late because of a long drive in an ice storm last night, in community with my friends at thehighcalling.org. We are working our way through the book, The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields. This week, we considered essays 17-19, in a section called “The Ways We Eat.” Click on the button above to see what others are writing. Then, pick up the book yourself and join us for next Monday’s discussion.