Cult, Culture, and Cultivation

Article excerpt

"It isn't natural for people to keep having sex "all the time and never have babies."

I can't find that quote on the Internet, but I know that back in the 1980s, when she was having her babies, rock goddess Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders (at least I think it was her) was quoted as saying something like that.

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That line kept coming to mind this June as I spent every spare minute with a hoe in my hand, waging war on the weeds in our blueberry field. While I worked, I kept a radio close by, which kept reporting the latest food safety scare. This time it was the attack of the killer tomatoes. Before that it was the fresh spinach from hell. Before that it was revenge of the peanut butter. And there is always the old standby--mad cow disease--that has lately been causing street protests in South Korea.

As I chopped, I kept thinking. Chrissie, as usual, was onto something about sex and babies. And maybe it is equally unnatural for us to keep eating and eating and never actually dig in the dirt. In the natural scheme of things, pleasures come with responsibilities. Sex, sooner or later, brings the burden of child-rearing. And, again if nature takes its course, child-rearing brings the pride and pleasure of children and, if done properly, decades of untold sacrifice.

On both fronts, we're starting to learn the hard way that when we divorce our pleasures from our responsibilities, we defy nature at our own risk.

Today, we in the United States are more removed from our food supply than our species has ever been. Our food is genetically modified, factory farmed, pre-emptively medicated, industrially processed, hermetically sealed, and shipped thousands of miles--the better to exploit the countries with the cheapest labor and the lowest health and safety standards. By the time it arrives at our table, it is an artificial abstraction--a package containing next to nothing that seemingly comes from nowhere. (Of all our foodstuffs, only seafood is required to label its country of origin.)

With the food chain so complicated (by distance and scale) and concentrated (in the hands of a few giant processors, wholesalers, and retailers), the inevitable errors human or mechanical are bound to take on a catastrophic scale. …