Friday, August 31, 2007

Localized reaction

"Localism is a movement made of pieties. The cult of seasonality was a taste that evolved into a politics; localism is essentially a politics attempting to create a taste. It is built on the conviction that the industrial economics of food growing and delivery are bad for us and bad for the planet, but it also has an implicit moralistic attitude that prefers small country patches over big urban deserts. It is possible to have localism without nostalgia, though, and Gabrielle urged me to look into the tilapia-farming program at Brooklyn College.

There are powerful arguments against localism: apart from the inevitable statistical tussles about exactly how much fuel is used for how much food, the one word that never occurs in the evocation of the lost world of small cities and nearby farms is “famine.” Our peasant ancestors, who lived locally and ate seasonally from the fruit of their own vines and the meat of their own lambs, were hungry all the time. The localist vision of the tiny polis and its surrounding gardens has historically led to bitter conflict, not Arcadian harmony.

It is even perilously easy to construct a Veblenian explanation for the vogue for localism. Where a century ago all upwardly mobile people knew enough, and had enough resources, to get their hands on the most unseasonable foods from the most distant places, in order to distinguish themselves from the peasant past and the laboring masses, their descendants now distinguish themselves by hustling after a peasant diet.

This may be so; but the fact that one can explain everything in social life as a series of status exchanges does not mean that social life is only a series of status exchanges. It was cool to be a liberal in 1963, but that did not make liberal attitudes to race foolish. All human values get expressed as social rituals; we place bets on which of the rituals are worth serving."

Excellent (very long, but very colorful) New Yorker article on local eating in New York. (Thanks Leila)

1 comment:

Leila Abu-Saba said...

I knew you would like it.

I'm entertained by the animals in the city theme. A friend of mine in the old days in NYC kept pigeons in an enormous, room-sized coop on his roof. He flew them for pleasure - never ate them. He also kept a rabbit or two, tropical birds, a dog and a cat. His children's friends claimed they lived in a zoo.

It would not be impossible to keep poultry for eggs (actually my friend had chickens too - designer breeds) in the city.

Also when I lived in NYC on the lower East Side, my apartment was in a back building off the street, with a hidden courtyard garden. The superintendent was an elderly Italian fellow devoted to gardening and composting. He had four enormous compost boxes on the property and he spent his days wheeling his shopping cart around the neighborhood, collecting food scraps from the merchants and cafes: orange rinds, coffee grounds, lettuces etc. But the whole garden was devoted to flowers - not a single food item. It was still miraculous and living there was slightly hallucinatory, because you would step from the gritty urban street, all concrete and brick buildings, into this hidden garden.