Friday, July 24, 2009

Do Farm Crises Lead to Lyrically Powerful Writing?

The other day, I listened to John Cougar Mellencamp's Scarecrow for the first time in a long time. I think it's one of the most lyrically powerful albums to come out of the farm crisis of the 1980's, and I might go even further and argue that it's one of the most lyrically powerful albums to come out of the mid-80's (ah, but there are so many contenders . . .).

I thought about the fact that last week I was listening to Woody Guthrie sing about a different farm crisis. All those images of people losing their farms haunt me. For weeks (months, years), I've been thinking about American workers who assume that their jobs are safe, only to wake with horror one day, realizing that whole industries have disappeared. For a long time, I've wondered if this end story will also be the one that workers in the nation's education/industrial complex will face. I know that the adjunct life has some similarities to migrant life: lots of miles on the highway, feeling like a faceless laborer, working long hours, life grinding away.

I also wonder if we're about to change our American approach to food. When I tried to eat locally one season, I realized how far most of my food travels before I see it (my food, my clothes, all my stuff, is more well-travelled than I am!). I saw a website that wanted us all to pledge to eat food only from a 100 mile radius from our homes. I thought, I'll starve! And I'm practical enough to realize that as we arrive at the end of a cheap, endless supply of oil, my way of eating is not sustainable.

The Washington Post's Food section this week has a variety of articles about people who are taking a different approach to farms and how we get produce from them. Go here to read a story about a business that delivers produce from Washington area farms to the houses of people who have placed Internet orders (brilliant!) or here to read an interview about the future of farming.

I like the idea of us all as food citizens, as one of the interviewees put it. We're all much more aware of our food these days--can we take that knowledge and transform the nation's food policies so that we don't have as many farm crises in the 21st century as we had in the 20th? I'd be willing to lose the lyrically powerful writing that comes out of a farm crisis if it meant that we solved these problems and made these crises disappear.

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