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  • Sustainability – taste

    Continuing with the interweaving nodes of ecology, local, social, health, humane, and taste.


    Personally, there is something almost mystical about the fact that built into the fabric of the world around us there is a synergistic interplay between being ecologically and socially responsible, the health we derive from our food, the meaningfulness found in taking care of contented animals, and last but not least, that it would taste so darn good. Too often, socially and environmentally responsible activities give us little more than a cerebral absolution of guilt. While many of us spend the energy to sort out our recycling and make the effort to separate it into the different bins rather than add to the landfills that few of us have ever seen, there is nothing inherently pleasurable about the activity. We are simply mitigating the damage. There is no synergy of pleasure within the system, because the system itself is one of industry and waste. Waste itself is a man-made concept, utterly foreign to Nature. Whether it is animal feces or decomposing bodies, every output of a natural system becomes an input into another intersecting system.

    Other responsible activities often tack an outside reward to help induce action. Send money to an environmental cause and you’ll receive this wonderful tote bag. Carpool to save gas and you can use the special HOV highway lane. Start a green energy business and the government will subsidize you to help you get started. Let me be clear that I am not against these outside motivators. What I wish to point out is that while these may be necessary jump start measures, they aren’t the real thing because they are not inherently part of a truly healthy and responsible system. In other words, it is not a sustainable approach.

    I grew up in a community that preached very strongly against instant gratification. There were many good reasons for such warnings, but unfortunately it created a posture of suspicion towards pleasure itself. No doubt there were echoes of Puritanism and our good ol’ friend Gnosticism. As a young adult I came upon the religious writer C. S. Lewis who turned the whole gnostic attitude towards pleasure on its head. Some of you may recognize his writings that said it wasn’t that pleasure and desire were in anyway bad, but that we didn’t know how to desire deeply enough. Like an ignorant kid who wants to stay in a slum making mud pies because the child couldn’t imagine what an offer to play at a beach meant. For Lewis there was the mercenary reward “which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things.” And in contrast, “the proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.”

    Here was a guy who cared deeply about literature and the arts and it drove him crazy when he found himself in circles that pretended to be cultured when they cared much more about the social status of being hip. At one point Lewis writes. “Those who read poetry to improve their minds will never improve their minds by reading poetry. For the true enjoyments must be spontaneous and compulsive and look to no remoter end. The Muses will submit to no marriage of convenience. The desirable habit of mind, if it is to come at all, must come as a by-product, unsought…In the same way, after a certain kind of sherry party, where there have been cataracts of culture but never one word or one glance that suggested a real enjoyment of any art, any person, or any natural object, my heart warms to the schoolboy on the bus who is reading Fantasy and Science Fiction, rapt and oblivious of all the world beside. For here also I should feel that I had met something real and live and unfabricated; genuine literary experience, spontaneous and compulsive, disinterested.”

    At the risk of sounding all too hokey, this is why I feel that the pleasure of taste is the customer’s key to participating in the activity of farming sustainable food. Buying out of some vague environmental duty, or worse, to be hip, does not truly participate in such an activity and is in fact rather unflattering to the farmer. But taking the time to make a delicious, tasty meal from the products of sustainable operations simply because you enjoy it allows your pleasure to participate in the entire system. The customer’s pleasure becomes the farmer’s greatest compliment. Pleasure is the essential consummation of sustainability.


    *** quotes taken from Lilies That Fester and The Weight of Glory