Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: Bringing It To The Table: On Farming and Food

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite writers, as well as someone who I look up to. If I could sit down to dinner with any one person living today, it would either be the Dali Lama or Wendell Berry. I own several of Berry's books of poetry and essays, but this is one that I have overlooked until now. I was researching organic gardening at the library yesterday when I ran across Bringing It To The Table: On Farming and Food in the library collection. Again, Mr. Berry impresses me with his wisdom, this time about our modern food system and what is wrong with it.

Anyone interested in sustainable farming and the future of our food system (which should be everybody) needs to read this impressive book. In fact, I think it should be required reading in high school agriculture programs and agriculture colleges. While many of these issues are just now becoming widely discussed, Berry has been talking about these issues for years and sadly few were listening. His very profound essay, Agriculture Solutions for Agriculture Problems, talks about the problems with factory farming and industrial agriculture. He describes the system as a failure and outlines its weaknesses in a dependency on chemical fertilizers, an economic and industrial organization, and an absolute dependence of most of the population on this organization with no back up system. In other words, if the system fails the general population will have no knowledge or land to grow their own food. He originally published this article in 1978, yet our society is only now taking note of these problems.

Wendell Berry
The book is divided into three sections: farming, farmers, and food. He defends the traditional family farm and condemns factory farming. He tells the stories of old school farmers Lancie Clippinger and Elmer Lapp, as well as many others affected by the dominance of the factory farm. The book ends with the essay, The Pleasures of Eating. Here he talks about the disconnect between the consumer and the food he eats. He discusses the politics and ethics of food and eating and outlines seven things anyone can do to eat responsibly, including preparing your own food and buying locally. While many of us who are aware of the problems of our industrial agriculture system have heard these seven actions before, the general population still blindly consumes the food on their grocery shelves.All you have to do is visit your local grocery chain and glance into the carts of the people filing back and forth down the isles grabbing items simply because they want them, not because they are good for them. Carts filled with overly processed foods, foods grown in large mono crops fed diets of chemical fertilizers and dusted in harmful pesticides.

It is time, for our own health and the health of our food system, that we finally start listening to Wendell Berry.

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