You Are What You Eat…And Not Who You Sleep With

Food and sex have shifted roles over the past fifty or so years, argues Mary Eberstadt in a fascinating essay at Policy Review. Once, social stigma condemned extra-marital philandering. Sex was a serious ethical issue, with serious personal and social consequences. Food, however, was something with few, if any, moral implications. Particularly for a generation with memories of the Depression, one was simply glad to have food at all. Continue reading You Are What You Eat…And Not Who You Sleep With

Provision and Progress

Michael Pollan is a rising star in the world of food. His recent book, In Defense of Food, was reviewed on Evangelical Outpost not long ago, he appears in a film now in theaters, and in a soon-to-air PBS documentary. He’s garnered attention on speaking tours and in a variety of articles, including this article by John Schwenkler at The New Atlantis. Schwenkler elaborates on In Defense of Food‘s central thesis – that our forsaking of folk wisdom to worship at the altar of decontextualized science is harming us, not simply in how we conceive of food (as Pollan argues), but in all areas of our lives.

The scientific perspective on food encourages us to understand what we eat solely in terms of its constituitive parts, reducing it to “nutrients.” This excludes folkways that approach food more holistically.  Because common sense cannot address food in terms of its caloric content or chemical construction, it has been bypassed in favor of expert opinion. But expert opinion is more and more returning to the value of inherited wisdom, things older generations came to know without scientific justification. Yet again, it turns out we should have listened to our mothers.

Schwenkler’s argument is reminiscent of the recent best seller Blink. In it, author Malcom Gladwell argues that instantaneous intuition, which outpaces reason and seems to defy available evidence, often provides a subtle and reliable analysis of situations, one we couldn’t otherwise perform consciously.  There are all sorts of ways in which an individual may have a way of doing things which she can’t justify, but which may well be to her benefit. Why shouldn’t this be so for cultures? It seems as if Pollan and Schwenkler would have us hesitate before throwing over “the way things are done” in favor of “progress.” They each offer examples of how America is returning to the roots from which it too hastily cut itself off.

Schwenkler, like Pollan, champions “not the kind of wisdom, whether real or merely apparent, [that is] dreamed up within the walls of the laboratory or the ivory tower, but rather the piecemeal accumulation of folk intuitions and commonsense tricks that encourage personal and societal flourishing in ways that abstract theories and appeals to first principles very rarely can.” He argues that “it is often at our peril that we allow such conventions to be displaced.” He notes that from child-rearing to city planning, we as a culture are realizing that our blind faith in engines of progress and modernity have often done us a disservice, one which our cast-aside old wives’ tricks and folk wisdom can remedy. From “free range” kids to farmers’ markets, things like eating local and trusting parents’ intuitions is gaining grassroots support over the prepackaged and oversystematized.

To be fair to the previous generations who got us into this streamlined, scientistic, systematized global economy,  it must be said that life informed by the scientific advances of the modern world has its advantages.  Things like the polio vaccine are just as much derived from science-centered progress as TV dinners. And though we may rightly blame such “progress” for the latter, it is best not to overlook the real progress of the former. Of course, neither Schwenkler nor Pollan are dismissing a century’s worth of development out of hand, but in their rush to affirm those goods which the last century has overlooked, they may do some overlooking of their own.

It cannot be ignored that the attempt to return to the way our grandmother thought of food and place is a move forward. There is no way that modern institutions, which are steeped in science, can be erased or undone, and we ought to be wary of replacing the old system with a new equally unhealthy one.

Pollan has acknowledged these dangers. In an interview with Organic Gardening magazine, Pollan notes that organic is in danger of being co-opted by the same money-driven engines that created the problems organic farming professes to address. Any revolutionary movement is in danger of absorbing (or being absorbed by) the worst of the status quo, and no solution for the food industry is safe from its abuses. Neither Schwenkler nor Pollan explicitly answer how we can go back while moving forward. How the organic movement spread without utilizing the  industry which it repudiates; how can the higher cost of organic justify itself to the poor; and whether it can work to help world hunger, or is doomed to be the hobbyhorse of the wealthy leisure class are all as yet unclear.  The general movement toward organic and local produce would do well to step carefully, working toward real, necessary change to our foodways, without rejecting what good has already been gained. ‘

Bold Plans for Electric Cars – Lunch w/ TED

“Shai Agassi wants to put you behind the wheel of an electric car — but he doesn’t want you to sacrifice convenience (or cash) to do it.  Forget about the hybrid auto — Agassi says it’s electric cars or bust if we want to impact emissions. His company, Better Place, has a radical plan to take entire countries oil-free by 2020.” –

It certainly is a “bold plan” and it is very clever, but I wonder what is do be done with all the batteries once they are worn out?  Also, isn’t the process of batter production very harmful to the environment?  Assuming that global warming was not an issue, what do you think of driving battery powered cars?  I think it’s a good start, but I’m not convinced that it is a realistic solution.  For example, I am doubtful that batteries have the power to do the hard work of powering large trucks w/ trailers. ‘

Earth Day Reading

Are you doing anything to celebrate Earth Day today?
I’ve never paid much attention to the the day before, but this year I’m determined to change that. I’m reading through Francis Schaeffer’s book, Pollution and the Death of Man, and finding it provocative and convicting. Here’s a good review (from my favorite bookstore!) to peak your interest:

Continue reading Earth Day Reading

The Bible “Goes Green.”

David Nilsen of the A-Team blog, a blog that is always interesting and well worth adding to your regular reads, has introduced us to the “Green Bible.” If your Jesus Junk alarm just went off, it is for good reason. The Word is complex, it is rich, and it is deep. As David reminds us in his post, oversimplifying the scriptures to give us one perspective can be dangerous:

Scripture purposefully makes use of many different genres (and different themes!) to convey the Gospel message in the most comprehensive way possible. A Bible that goes out of its way to draw attention to only a single theme can have the unfortunate side effect of obscuring the Gospel message itself.

Gimmicky is a great adjective to describe most themed Bibles. However, the problem of the Green Bible is not that it is gimmicky, rather the problem is that it could lead to heresy. The Green Bible perverts Scriptures to promote the Gospel of Green:

“[From the Green Bible Quiz] 4) Where did Jesus go to commune with nature?”
(It’s been said before, but it bears repeating here: Jesus was not a hippy). The answer to this question is apparently found in Matthew 4:23 [sic], “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.” Seriously, are the people responsible for the green “bible” actually reading it? Jesus didn’t go up the mountain to commune with nature! He went up to pray (literally, to commune with God!). Stretching the meaning of a verse to make a point is one thing. Butchering a verse and literally replacing God with nature…that’s a whole new ballgame.

David’s critique of the Green Bible is precise and insightful. I recommend you read the rest of his post here.