July 28, 2013
It’s 55° with light rain in central Michigan this morning, and it’s late July. The tomatoes won’t like this.
Of course we did have ten days or so of unseemly hot and humid weather back when the whole country was enduring a heat wave earlier in the month. Although that kind of weather would definitely put a dent in anyone’s enthusiasm for hand-weeding, all-in-all this was a pretty good thing for mid-Michigan farmers. So like we did a couple of times last year when the drought was eating us up, it may be time to devote one edition of the Thornapple blog to kibitzing about the weather.
Talkin’ ‘bout the weather down at the Chit-Chat Café. Now that’s a caricature of the farmer if I ever heard one, but there may be a kernel of truth to it. It certainly seems natural that someone whose daily routine is so dramatically affected by temperature and rainfall might appear to be obsessively interested in it. But we all like to talk about the weather, don’t we? I think it was Bill Cosby who once noted how much time the elderly spend watching The Weather Channel on cable television. “It’s like Mister Rogers Neighborhood for old people,” he said. It was Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler who said, “Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky.” But that might have been something else entirely.
I was wandering along Grand River in East Lansing earlier this week and picked up some coffee at Starbucks and some cash at the credit union. In both cases, the people behind the counter wanted to talk about the weather. They were languishing indoors in an air conditioned space and pining to get outside into one of those stupendous Michigan summer days when the temperature is hovering around eighty and the humidity is tolerable. Well, we did have a few spectacular days last week, but that’s not what I came here to blog about during a spell when we might be thinking that autumn is setting in a month early. If there is any kind of food ethics point to talking about the weather, it has to get beyond chit-chat.
Point number one might be one of those carpe diem things, where we point out that attending to the weather is (or can be) a way to signify the magnificent fragility and timorous radiance of being alive. That, however, calls for poetry and I think we’ve pretty well established that the Thornapple blog is not the place for poetry. So maybe I’d better just move right along to point number two, which would be the way that thinking reflectively about one’s food and where it comes from is an important way to introduce a bit of systemic sensitivity into one’s daily routine. Registering the fact that all this cool weather is not going to be good for the tomato harvest is a way to stay in touch with something bigger than oneself. Not that you can or should do anything about it. Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. (That was either Mark Twain or his friend and neighbor Charles Dudley Warner. Who knows?)
Having a sense of what’s going on out there and how it affects things, however, that’s good ethics.
Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University