And the Pursuit of Happiness
November 28, 2009 9:01 PM   Subscribe

Back to the Land — an illustrated essay about giving thanks and food and joy and life and things to ponder and such by Maira Kalman. posted by netbros (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I wish I'd been to a school like that.

It's hard to see that way of life (eating locally, producing your own food, etc.) ever becoming the norm without some kind of paradigm shift in the way we run our lives. This kind of thing can't work for everybody living in a city. And most people want to live in cities.

I can see a gradual movement of a minority of people moving away from cities and living somewhat sustainably, but it's a little harder to see everybody making the same change.
posted by twirlypen at 10:13 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I disagree, twirlypen. CSA availability in and near major cities, farmer's markets--we brush some of this off as being elitist, but it's there and waiting. In San Francisco, many farmer's markets accept food stamps. Since I joined a CSA my food budget has been halved--the only catch is that it has also forced my family to try things I would never have bought at a supermarket, which has in turn expanded my skills as a cook and improved the variety of our diet. I live a half hour from San Francisco, but I eat eggs every morning from my own chickens.

Food deserts in urban areas are a major problem, and education may go a long way toward encouraging communities to demand solutions.
posted by padraigin at 11:34 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Doesn't George Washington look like he's blasting off?
posted by spasm at 12:39 AM on November 29, 2009

And then the EGG is put on toast and eaten with tremendous JOY. Hurrah for the chicken. Hurrah for the EGG.

Every time I think the Times has reached a level of self-indulgence on which it cannot possibly improve, it goes and outdoes itself with something like this.
posted by enn at 5:02 AM on November 29, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm with Enn. Although this person talks about many things that I totally agree with, the piece has the effect of making me want to eat an entire KFC family bucket by myself. In an SUV.
posted by rhymer at 5:39 AM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

And then the EGG is put on toast and eaten with tremendous JOY. Hurrah for the chicken. Hurrah for the EGG.

I didn't see anything self indulgent about this. The message is that an egg isn't just something we should take for granted; it is the beautiful product of a chicken, and should be respected as such.

Okay maybe it's kind of heavy handed, but it seems important to recapture that splendid celebration of the natural world, especially now when such celebration is looked down upon with skepticism.
posted by deticxe at 6:08 AM on November 29, 2009

i thought it was quaint & nostalgic & hopeful. a little over the top in places--like the hurrah for the EGG comment, which made me think about my grandmother working on her farm 50+ years ago, and i don't think 'joy' is the adverb i'd use. maybe humility, because she understood what it meant to get an egg on the table. and pride, because she knew how much work went into getting that egg & it's accompaniments from their place in nature into someone's belly.

i can say, though, that thanksgiving had a whole other meaning for my grandparents (and presumably, their peers). it truly was a celebration of the bounty, instead of an orgy of excess.

the most important aspect of the article for me, though, was the idea that people sit down at the table & eat together. my mother used to tell me that her father insisted that the dinner table was the place to discuss current events culled from the newspaper, and that he expected everyone to participate in the conversation. i thought my mother was crazy to insist that we all be home to have dinner together. when someone was late, the entire family had to wait--and the straggler felt the heat of a half dozen heated, hungry glares. but it was the one time of day that we religiously did something as a family. and i think that's important.
posted by msconduct at 6:10 AM on November 29, 2009

I suspect my grandmother working on her poultry farm 50 years ago would have laughed at this Fifth Avenue view of the noble chicken and special egg-frying spoons made by "artist" blacksmiths (carefully qualified to ensure that you don't get the idea the author is the sort of person who associates with the non-"artist" kind of blacksmith, or, for that matter, the kind of farmer who doesn't love all bugs), but I'm only speculating.

A recent study by Mark R. Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, startled some policy makers in finding that half of Americans receive food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children, the figure was 90 percent. (NYT)
posted by enn at 6:57 AM on November 29, 2009

Though this article provides good cheer leading for those doing the right thing, I think it could have done more to reach out and less to preach to the choir.

It is easy to ignore anything that looks so much like an earth mother refrigerator magnet.
posted by poe at 7:26 AM on November 29, 2009

When i first read this I didn't even notice the New York Times banner. That explains why the responses here expect it to do more somehow than just represent an opinion or feeling. I thought it was just someone's website, an art project come blog post.

In that light, i understand everybody's cynicism.

Also, I know nothing about the New York Times, perhaps they often pull stuff like this to generate an image of grass-roots connections.
posted by deticxe at 7:48 AM on November 29, 2009

Wonderful, like all Kalman's work—thanks for the post. Sorry some of you are so terminally cynical (or suffering from post-Thanksgiving bloat and remorse [NOT REST-OF-THE-WORLDIST]) that you can't enjoy it.
posted by languagehat at 9:07 AM on November 29, 2009

languagehat, it was pretty damn preachy. The bit about the egg also made me want to throw my laptop across the room. There have got to be ways to be respectful of food that don't need to qualify every participant in the process as An Artist or suggest that Berkeley middle schoolers philosophize with their meals.

Anyway I'd be curious to hear what the kids at Malcolm X Middle School on the other side of town have to say about it. Hopefully something different than the last time I read about Berkeley school food programs in 2006:
Two weeks later, Cooper put on her chef’s whites and went to face her critics. They marched into the Malcolm X auditorium in three shifts, during recess, and listened politely to her explanations. Then they raised their hands and began the inquisition. “What happened to the double hamburgers?” ‘Why haven’t we had orange chicken lately?” “Where are our nachos?” Cooper told them that there was hardly any chicken in the orange chicken and no real cheese in the nacho sauce, but they didn’t care. “They were really pissed off,” she says. “I took away all the crap they liked.”
posted by migurski at 10:43 AM on November 29, 2009

Sorry some of you are so terminally cynical...that you can't enjoy it.

Some of us like the intent, but find the delivery and aesthetic of that intent a little too twee and precious. I don't think it's cynical so much as weary to point out the bourgeoisie trappings of this kind of bucolic nostalgia for small farming arcadia. That Kalman's piece is more Martha Stewart-in-Whole-Foods than it is Wendell Berry (her line in this piece about Berry notwithstanding) is not so much a condemnation as an observation. I like farmers markets, organic produce, Vermont, Roz Chast and the Upper West Side too, but I find the Kalman aesthetic, like the Wes Anderson aesthetic, a tad cloying.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:51 AM on November 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

On further reflection, I think that the trick Kalman is missing is the relationship between joy and uncertainty. Out of uncertainty comes fear, out of deliverance from fear relief, out of relief joy. As one city-dweller to another, I'm sure that Kalman views quality organic food as a consumer choice rather than a survival imperative, so her egg joy rings a bit hollow. She never feels The Fear of a ruined harvest, so her joy in food is different to that of someone who's relieved that they're not about to go hungry for the winter.

It's not about food but my favorite writing on the related idea of uncertainty is this book by David Pye.
posted by migurski at 11:03 AM on November 29, 2009

I'm a fan of Kalman's work too l-hat, but what HP LaserJet said. That read like press clippings for Chez Panisse.
posted by vronsky at 11:07 AM on November 29, 2009

"Marinetti came up with conceptual projects for dining."

...when he wasn't busy helping Mussolini's career and writing things like "destroy the museums, the libraries, every type of academy," and "We will glorify war - the world's only hygiene - militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman." Marinetti, huh. Keen rhetorical move to invoke him, here.

"Bob tells me that these organic carrots contain more nutrients than carrots not grown organically. So what do we do about that?"

We investigate it, and we find that it is nonsense? I'm all for organics, but making claims like that is retarded. That's just not true, it's trivially disprovable, and it makes advocates of organic farming look stupid. I'm annoyed because this moron is tarnishing me with the moron brush.

And overall, going to Chez Panisse to help understand how to make real food less elitist? I have no way to understand this whole essay other than as an attempt to undermine the slow-food and organic movement by pushing its internal problems and contradictions to the point of absurdity. Big agribusiness could not have done a better job attempting to discredit their rival than this.

Bare-assed fact: we have the food system we have because government policy has made it so. That's all. It will not change until our farm policy changes.
posted by rusty at 9:32 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

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