Wednesday, October 26

can of worms

We went to a taping of etown tonight. A show a guy I know describes as "kind of a lefty, do-gooder version of Prairie Home Companion". They had Peter Mayer and Ben Taylor on, who were both pretty good. Mayer I expected from what I've already heard - Excellent guitarist, good lyricist, sincere enough to be kind of corny without sucking. Taylor surprised me a little bit. Since it's a variety show format (albeit without any skits or the like), there was less of both musicians than I would have liked to hear - but I pretty much went in expecting that.

What left me feeling dissatisfied was a certain amount of what I can only describe as sanctimonious bullshit when they got around to the show's other guest, Nell Newman. Newman is Paul Newman's daughter, and she heads up Newman's Own Organics. This, I don't have any problems with. They probably make fine pretzels and whatnot, and after all, they are donating the profits.

But there came a point during the quasi-interview when Nick Forster asked about the criticism that buying organic/natural foods is basically a choice afforded to the wealthy, that the whole thing is often elitist. Since this is at the heart of the most basic problems with the organic ideology/industry/market, it would have been nice to get something besides a boilerplate response. Unfortunately, both participants danced around a little bit and trotted out the "well, it's really about you pay a little more and your kids are better fed and some farmer is getting rewarded for his hard work" boilerplate.

Which plays well in Boulder but I suspect doesn't have much to do with reality.

I guess it's worth noting that I like the idea of sustainable, localized agriculture. I grew up surrounded by what you could fairly call the other kind. Maybe grand-scale, Great Plains style agriculture - with its swaths of monoculture crops, massive petroleum & chemical inputs, intensive irrigation, and obscenely concentrated livestock production - will sustain itself indefinitely. Maybe yields will keep going up. It sure seems like there are problems with all of this. Anyway, I'm all for reducing inputs of pesticides and herbicides, and anything that ameliorates the hideous cruelty of industrial livestock production - in a country that eats far too high up the food chain, far too much of the time - is probably a good idea.

On the other hand, I think it's necessary to be deeply sceptical of anything as marketable as the "organic" label. And its ideological components (for example the automatic dismissal or fear of any genetic modification, a specific moral hierarchy of food) deserve more criticism than they often receive.