Saturday, October 27, 2007

Something Old

A wonderful Barbara Kingsolver piece, featuring the marvelous Vandana Shiva, appeared in the September 30th Washington Post-- since this was the day my grandfather died, I missed it. A particularly startling assertion made by Shiva and new to me:
"Most of those who have moved off of farms are still working in the industry of creating food and bringing it to consumers: as cashiers, truck drivers, even the oil-rig workers who generate the fuels to run the trucks. Those jobs are all necessary to a travel-dependent, highly mechanized food system. And many of those jobs are menial, life-taking work, instead of the life-giving work of farming on the land. The analyses we have done show that no matter what, whether the system is highly technological or much more simple, about 50 to 60 percent of a population has to be involved in the work of feeding that population. Industrial agriculture did not 'save' anyone from that work, it only shifted people into other forms of food service."
Huh, really? Take the poll I just put up above-- I'm curious. And think carefully: for instance, no, of course I don't work in any kind of food-related job, I work in a fisheries laboratory. Then I thought about it a little more. Our lab has been mostly dedicated to addressing whirling disease, a pathogen that's been decimating trout populations throughout the West. Why, indeed, do we care about trout populations? Partly because of concern for ecological ramifications, or love of sport fishing. But also because trout are a wild food resource still widely exploited by Westerners. Are we so removed from the idea that wild food is real "food" that trout don't count, whereas if I worked with a cattle disease I'd certainly have a consciousness of my role in feeding the country's population? So, yes, okay, I'm (still) in food service.

Other food-service jobs I've held: bakery assistant. Grocery cashier. If you take "feeding the population" literally, nursing home aide. Grill cook. Prep cook. Waitress. Hostess. The past seven years in fisheries. Plus substantial unpaid cooking and gardening. Shiva is right. How about you, dear reader?

My grandpa, by the way, was born to a farm family. Later he grew up and "moved off the farm" (though still a farm-owner), becoming a small-town independent banker and politician. Oh, except the money coming in to the bank was that of local farmers, and plenty of the voters and constituents were farmers too. He was still in food service.

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