Loyalties

December 19, 2010

The last few weeks of the Thornapple blog have taken a reflective turn, focused more on process than outcome, and as a result they have drifted away from food ethics. Occasioned by the anniversary of the blog, I’ve been thinking and writing a bit on blogging. This began with the Keyblog after Thanksgiving, which harkened back to the very first Thornapple blog in 2009. In the process of writing the Keyblog, I spent some time going back over the previous year’s efforts. While doing so, I made an effort to use tags and categories that can help the occasional surfer find those entries that they might find interesting. My son Walker advises me that he finds some of the blogs funny, some of them thought-provoking and some of them just plain weird.

By which, I presume, he means that they are obtuse and inscrutable. A good example would be the Ooops! blog and its references to sea lice. There was a point buried deep there, and it was something like “Sea lice are people, too!” but that’s almost as obscure as the original blog, so perhaps I should just give this up and get on to the subject at hand.

I went through the past year’s blogs and put many of them into the category of “Funny” or “Serious” in some sort of effort to enable people who come here with the idea of reading those thought-provoking tidbits to actually find them amidst the chaff and sarcasm. The sarcasm got stuck into “Funny”. I know that they will not strike everyone as funny any more than the “Serious” ones strike everyone as thought-provoking (see “Mail Call” for the evidence). But as the cliché goes, it is what it is. There are also a few blogs I’ve written with the thought that actual members of the Thornapple CSA might be reading them. This would be about thirty people, max, and in reality it’s probably five or six, not all of whom read every week. I don’t treat this as a newsletter. These entries are intended to be somewhat reflective and informative about what it means to be a member of a CSA in general, and of the Thornapple CSA, in particular. I’ve clumped them under the category “CSA Beeswax”. Also obtuse, I know: Il est ce qu’il est.

And as for the obtuse and weird, I’ve mostly left those “Uncategorized,” along with a bunch that are just kind of boring. There are a few blogs that celebrate particular foods: coffee, peanut butter, ice cream. I don’t really know what to do with these except in the rare case that they are also kind of funny, like “Gravy”. Maybe in a year I’ll get enthused enough to have a new category. My Dad, who reads this blog seemingly rather regularly, comments that I write with a “walking fingers” style: I just start out writing and the thoughts take me wherever they go. That may be true in a few cases, like when Shakespeare gets connected to Joan Didion in a bikini. But generally, no. That’s not how I approach my blog.

The fact is, I just love wide turns and seemingly discontinuous juxtapositions. I spend a lot of time thinking about them, too, though I surely wouldn’t claim that all of them do the work they are intended to do. Sometimes the wide turn works for humor: My ruminations on chili remain my favorite Thornapple blog. Other times its serious business.  Josiah Royce is now somewhat unjustly obscure, but he wrote an insightful (but also deeply problematic) book in which he suggested that loyalty is at the core of ethics. And food ethics tests one’s loyalties mightily. One week I’m in there with small family farmers or migrant workers and the next week I’m hanging out with gargantutarians and VPs from Wal-Mart. People need to eat, and other things equal, eating cheaply is especially attractive from the egalitarian perspective. Spending less on food becomes more and more important the poorer you are. And many environmental calculations turn out to favor highly efficient industrial-scale production and distribution, too. There are, in short, really good ethical rationales behind what works in the industrial food system.

On the opposite side of the equation, other things rarely are equal.  People in the alternative food movement are struggling to right what’s wrong about the industrial food system. Some of them have watched loved-ones die from cancer or diabetes, and they see eating differently as part of their own personal salvation. Others are more politically motivated. They see the erosion of community that occurs as eating becomes pure consumption, and they mistrust those VPs who live very comfortably on the proceeds of a cheap food system.

I’m on both sides, living the discontinuous juxtaposition. I have to be.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University.

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