I am sitting at a coffeeshop, a free-trade coffeeshop, drinking pomegranate green tea and soy milk. My hair, which was nicely bodified by a day of being twisted up and which I have not washed since, testifies to the fact that I belong. So, ironically, does my Mac laptop, the Canon camera at my feet, the two CDs and a book that lie at my elbow. I am part of the post-industrial return to nature, and as such technology and information excess are as necessary as clean air. Maybe more so, because I’m breathing exhaust as I type.
The book at my elbow is one that I picked up free of the lunchroom table at work: the Omnivore’s Dilemma. In it, I have learned that since 1977, the American’s daily caloric intake has risen 10 percent or more. Not because we’ve gotten 10 percent more active, but because of the sheer abundance of our food — mostly corn from the Midwest, which is transformed into our processed food (organically speaking, a McDonalds milkshake is 78 percent corn; chicken nuggets are 56 percent corn) and the calories for our corn-based, overcrowded feedlots. In the 1970s, overproduction began to be encouraged to drive the price of food down, and has been subsidized ever since by government pay-outs to farmers who would otherwise not be able to cover their costs. This has resulted not just in cheaper food, but more of it — both to export and to clutter up the domestic table. It has also resulted in heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and on and on. We don’t technically need this much food, so why are we producing it, when the expense (both to taxpayers and consumers) is so great?
Perhaps because it’s so easy to do so. The contrast in the book is a Christian environmentalist “grass farmer” who has, for example, created a near-natural habitat wherein he grazes cattle on grass (meanwhile, the cows spread seed and dump manure) and brings chickens in after them to clean up (meanwhile, the poultry eat fly larvae before they can turn into pests and dump nitrogen). The rotation has made once-barren land fertile and produces the tastiest food his customers have come across. Although the “real work is done by the animals,” orchestrating the movement of the herds (with portable electric pens), preparing for winter, and selling the produced food still requires long hours. Way longer than jumping in the John Deere and unloading hybrid seed row by row. But also way more interesting. I am almost tempted to pull a Candide and cultivate my garden for a living.
So that’s the book. The CDs I got by exchanging books I no longer wanted (and had no space to keep) for store credit. The Canon is digital, and thus does not involve printing chemicals and so on. A bit of a stretch, since it needs battery power, but I’m in the process of describing the consistency of this paradox here at the free trade coffeeshop. I need the camera, and the computer, to justify my alternate lifestyle and alternate hairstyle to the rest of the world. Because the world is obviously watching me.
I advise the world to do the following: start eating 10 percent less. This will cure obesity, extend your life, extend the lives of your grandchildren, help fix the national debt, and rescue your mortgage payments. While you’re at it, maybe you should conserve water by only showering every other day, too.