During the terror and horror of two World Wars, the dust bowl, and the great depression, small patches of plants bearing fruits and veggies, around parks, homes, and empty public spaces were an ordinary sight. More than ordinary, expected. From Britain, America, Canada, and across the world, it was considered a patriotic act, and encouraged, to grow food to help not only feed families struggling under rationing, as well as the shocks and aftershocks of the great depression, and the environmental burden of the dust bowl in the United States, but a community event. A recent Op-Ed in the times noted it, among other commentators, in a refrain that’s becoming increasingly common. We kind of fucked up our country, and we really need to fix it. Reworking our understanding of how we feed ourselves, our families, and our country is a major first step, and one that people have become interested in this spring more than normal.
If you tried ordering seeds this spring, you might have noticed two things: one, that the coronavirus might delay your package delivery date. Two? That most of the seeds on the menu from your local or online seedbank are sold out. When people were going bananas and buying up 20 packages of toilet paper at a go, they also decided to start a garden. I suspect it was more people getting back into gardening than it was new people, but I hope it was the latter. The major breakdowns in massive commercial farming over the years have pointed out nothing, if not this: when it comes to emergency situations, big farms are not the formula for success. Not least of which are the scandals emerging that Tyson meat packing plants have over 11,000 Coronavirus Cases confirmed in workers, many that aren’t being made to go home by the factory. Not least of which after this is that
Right now, the average american is getting crushed under the burden of our greed. The idea that we can selectively sell major sections of our food, biomass, and raw material production to a highly select group of companies, already being subsidized by taxpayers, is not only unsustainable, but unethical, irresponsible, and flat out dangerous. When crisis happens, as inevitably it will, these companies are built around the concept of minimal responsibility and maximum profitability. Who knew huh? American corporations could give a crap about feeding the american people, so long as their bottom line goes up. Why give grain to the hungry when you could simply dump it to inflate the price? All while being subsidized through legislation that you wrote, that disproportionately favors your interests over local farmers? While many have pointed to the recent reductions in restaurant orders as the reason for the excess livestock, produce, and grain, the problem runs much deeper than that. In fact, they’ve been running deep for over a century and were never properly fixed. The Jungle anyone?
Right now, on a generational level, we not only face businesses and individuals with resources under their control that rival the robber barons of old, but invasions and violations of our rights and privacy on a level never before seen thanks to technology and a refusal by our elected officials to support transparency or oversight to protect or support United States Citizens. If you thought the nightmare of McCarthy and the red scare was dangerous suppression of American Citizenry, what about the NSA, the Patriot Act, FISA Court, for-profit prisons, police incentivized to incarcerate citizens rather than defend them, and the list goes on and on. Just look at the most recent stimulus bill, where more money went to companies reporting hundreds of millions in corporate profits than went to the American people. Those same companies are now stating that after a healthy round of executive bonuses, they’ll not only be laying off large portions of their workforce, but they’re going for flat out bankruptcy and a fuck you to the people who’ve built them, and the customers that have supported them. Explain that one.
We’ve become soft and lazy in our bad fortune, and squandered much of what we could have done. I say bad fortune because although you might be getting told how great profits are, people are dying from lack of basic care, facing an unemployment rate that may be twice as high as the great depression, We’re less healthy, look to our decreasing life expectancy, we’re less fortunate, I have the distinct pleasure of being a part of the first generation that is expected to have a lower standard of living than their parents in American history, we faced a decreased level of privacy and personal protection under the guise of freedom, an authoritarian electorate that is more focused on being reelected and keeping office than legislating, and an environmental crises that has not only already claimed millions of lives from the effects of global climate change, but challenges our species with an existential threat so vast that it will take a sustained global effort to terraform our planet away from a toxic cesspool and back towards a sustainable ecosystem with some semblance of biodiversity.
I know that it’s a lot of doom and gloom, but stick with me: we’re not gonna give up. The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there is one. We cannot solve the problems of the United States until we, its citizens, demand and create the change necessary. Although some may try to tell us differently, we can vote, we can refuse to support the corporate entities inside of beloved American industries trying to destroy our lives, our livelihoods, and our ways of life, and we can shape the future. Although we have strayed far from the path (and continue to take steps away every day), we are constitutionally a democracy. And we can make it more of democracy every day with our actions. I hear too often from not just proud Republicans and Democrats, but also from apathetic and misinformed individuals who say that they have no agency in the world. That their decisions don’t really matter.
“Just as good” is not the absence of evil; nonengagement is not blissful ignorance. It is cowardice. Now, I understand. Truly, I do. It’s some scary shit we’re facing down. But the one thing that will not save us is apathy. “Someone else will figure it out” should only be the excuse of the people who came before us, and it cannot be what we tell our children and our grandchildren when we pass on our legacy to them. We have the chance, if we choose to take it, to fight, shape, and pass along the first steps towards a world more beautiful and hopeful than at any point in the history of our species. Our culture, our media, our
We have, within all of us, an indomitable American spirit. It comes from the land, more so than anything else. Our myths don’t just lie to us, they define us. Not because the myths we’ve been told shape our understanding of the world, but because the myths we tell, and the heroes and legends we choose to believe in define who we aspire to be. We have to go beyond the Marvel movies, and look for our future within not just each of us as individuals, but in our sacred bonds of humanity. To care, to explore, to become better than we are, smarter than we are, more thoughtful than we are, more disciplined than we are, more adaptable and flexible than we are. When did it become the norm to view the future as only a thing to be feared, and forgotten about in favor of a few fickle distractions? Apathy and pessimism are not the values of Americans. Nor are they the values of humanity. And we shouldn’t accept them in ourselves or each other.
There’s so much anger, frustration, and pain. Much, if not most, of it justified. Relegating people’s attempts to care about others, or grapple with the deeper, harder questions about their identity and place in the world or their way of life, or their desire to improve upon the status quo as simple politics is the problem. Life is not about what you can personally benefit. It’s not about your bank account, or your material possessions, or your title, or your position. And for what? You can’t take it with you as they say.
There’s a growing disparity between what we’re meant to present, and our actions. Between our talk, and our walk. We tread heavy, talk shit, and oftentimes do a lot more selfish harm than helpful good. Why would a developing democratic nation want us to offer humanitarian, technological, and educational assistance when we could just topple their entire country and install a dictator? Right now, we need a future not only to believe in and dedicate ourselves to, but that’s larger than ourselves. One that not just we, but any human being can believe in. This isn’t optimistic, youthful, foolishness as much as the weaker spirits among us might like to portray it as such. It is the way that we build a world worth living for. We don’t like that word right now, do we? Spirit. Humanity. Hutzpah. Grit. Determination. We prefer words like realism, lowered expectations, acceptable, ordinary. Fuck that. We reached, and attained the stars and gave them up. Let’s walk among them again.
For the past forty years, and further back then that even, we’ve gone from bad to worse in terms of our desire to focus on ourselves in the most selfish ways, rather than on our ability to work together to achieve the impossible. Because there is nothing that we cannot do. Name it. What is it that human beings aren’t capable of if we decide to? We’ve been to the moon, cured diseases, massacred most other species on the planet, destroyed our ecosystems, integrated technology to the point of dependenceso completely with ourselves that we cannot imagine life without it, and and have the capability to can heal most diseases, , feed any person, and go anywhere, including space and the center of our planet. And we can do it not just in harmony with, but while reclaiming the birthright we decided to burn in industry just to accelerate a process that has crippled us mentally, socially, economically, and environmentally.
People my age grew up fed on the fantasy of the American individual: the brilliant genius that single handedly forges forward to achieve prosperity through the American Dream. It’s a fun delusion. We’ve always loved it. From our elected officials in George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, to leaders in human understanding and connection like Martin Luther King Jr., and leaders in technology and industry like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. But the truth is that every one of these individuals succeeded only through their ability to work together with others. And all of them succeeded in spite of, and because of their hardships and rewards in this country and world. The businessmen, and businesswomen, of this country speak so often of their value to their country, but you’d be hard pressed to find a room’s worth of them to put together that actually give a crap about the country that gave them what they have. Look to the oil barons of texas and
We have to quit bullshitting ourselves that we support small farmers in this country. That is fiction. The reality is that the United States only allows the rich kids to profit off of the people doing the real work with our natural wealth. The idea that we can manipulate our environments as we want without repercussions, all in the name of profits, is fiction. There’s such a thing as ethics, and they trump the crap that’s being recited by politicians who are willing to take the money from these companies, but then stab their constituents in the back in the same breath.
Right now, we need engaged citizens. That’s what will make this country great again. Not fake promises about what might happen. We need people who are willing to call their senators and representatives at both the state and the federal level and demand real change. Now, maybe you’ve heard the phrase think globally act locally. It’s not just about holding our elected officials accountable, but making sure that every citizen is taking an active part in the regeneration of both our country, and our food supply. Every american should consider it their patriotic duty to not only grow a garden, but to maintain their property in more ways than one.
There’s a different, and deeper question underneath all of this about how we treat this country at our most fundamental, but that’s for another post. We need this conversation to happen. Not for politics, but for the American people. It’s not just the destination, but how we approach the journey that defines who we are as Americans. What happened to the war on poverty? When was it decided that we could dump unspeakable tons of usable food from meat, to milk, to wheat into the ground to watch, while our citizens starve, simply to protect the profits of a select few? The idea that there’s any sort of discussion about tossing out food to rot, when so much of this country, and the world is still in poverty is abominable. And it’s unacceptable.
Stewardship of one’s own small piece of the Earth is a good first step, but the next is to demand that new legislation be written, governing the entire agricultural industry in the United States. We need to set aside the silly idea that we can simply waste without repercussion, or that we have no responsibilities to help our neighbors. When did we forget that we declared war on poverty, and made a commitment to feeding every American, regardless of their income? And do so in a way in which we care for, and encourage the natural beauty of our landscape? We would rather throw it into the garbage then give it to someone in need? We have to have serious conversations as a nation going into the future about what we want that future to be. If it’s anything worth living, fighting, and building for, then it must maintain that regardless of financial worth, a human life is a human life. And as much as it’s on us to change our leaders, it’s also on us to change ourselves. As a nation we are a strange breed. Our dynamism, and diversity define us, and have always been the single greatest factor in our success. Our ability to assimilate vast amounts of new cultures and ways of life that bring us more and more ways of looking at the world. To say that there has been some sort of singular America is a fiction. What defines us as Americans cannot be what we currently accept as our reality: Warmongering, Anti-Intellectualism, Anti-Skilled Labor, Anti-Agrarian, Anti-Democratic. And yes, we have a walk-in closet of skeletons, stains, and disgraces. That is the reality of our legacy. But at every point in time we make the choice to accept it. To accept anything less than American. America at its greatest. When we build for the future, and not for ourselves, sacrificing our personal pleasures so that the generations that follow us can not only reap the benefits of those gains, but build upon them.
Coming from World War II into the greatest economic explosion in the history of the world, you would have thought that we would be able to examine the policies that led to that explosion, in conjunction,
A better way of life is not simply a wealthier, more consumer driven one. I love the natural beauty in this country. The beauty of the land that has been created from generations of immigrants in blood, and in bond is being destroyed. We have collectively lost what should have been among our top priorities: our G-d given responsibility to be stewards of the Earth. And if that isn’t the sort of thing that drives you then we can of course go down all the lists of reasons why it makes sense to not shit in the lake we drink from, but on the most basic of human recognitions, our understanding of the world around us is our bond to our home itself. Perhaps one day we might slip our earthly coils and step forward into space in a more permanent and expansive vision for ourselves, but for the moment, this is home. This is all of it. And I’m not gonna lie, we’ve helped fuck it up pretty good. Scientists say that we should expect Dust Bowl level drought every forty years. And if you don’t think that one dust bowl a century was crippling enough for the North American Ecosystem, I’m not sure if you’re paying attention. But there is good news. At this moment, which truly I think we do not yet understand, we do have a voice, and an action, and a value. We each have agency to step forward and speak for a vision that is greater than any single one of us. Understand our honor as Americans, just as much as individuals. We are highly individualistic. We idolize and adore the stand outs. And ostracize. But we recognize, and we continue to break away from the herd in our ones that are always splitting.
Everyone right now can feel it. We’re all holding our breath, clenching our muscles. To fight? To brace for the blow? To just try and keep ourselves together? We are in the middle of three different crises: public health in a pandemic, transparent democratic institutions, working for the common good, not for the select few. And find in ourselves our patriotic duty to push forward for our common benefit, and for that of our fellow humanity.
There will be tomorrow. And tomorrow again. And again, and again, forever. Because this is not the end. It isn’t even the beginning of the end. We will beat the coronavirus, and we will beat the authoritarian nightmare that we find ourselves fitfully sleepwalking into, and we will heal a broken planet that’s been raped and mutilated, and we will find a balance that engages both active human life and thought and technology, and we will do it, because we can. Because at our hearts, we cannot help but want to become better. We simply choose it. Today. Tomorrow. Every day. Every generation. Because we cannot just talk our aspirations and lip service our faith. We have to walk barefoot now through the fires that’ve been set for us. Literal and Metaphorical.
A good place to start. Is to start growing gardens again. Reforesting land that may be leftover. Become stewards, not salespeople, of the land we’ve been charged with caring for. Starting a garden is a great first step towards changing our collective future. Accepting that until we each care, feed, clothe, and support each other, inside, and outside of just a bottom line, we won’t achieve the future we want. Until we commit to supporting, becoming, and expanding small and local farming practices, we will constantly be at the mercy of individuals who make vast decisions with an eye to profit, rather than people, or families, or health. Small farms allow us to ride through emergencies like we see now, placing an egg in every basket, and turning an environmental, economic, and ethical nightmare into a solution that does everything we want it to. Will it be hard? Hell yes. But it starts with education and it starts with allowing American farmers, and American citizens a chance to enter the agriculture industry without being forced out.
This subject is vast, and continues forever. There are plenty better writers and thinkers that we can go to, but I don’t think there’s ever been a time in which our survival as a species may depend on our ability and willingness to commit ourselves to the basics. To each taking charge of our own small corner of the world and transforming it into a garden of eden. Take back not just our right to food, and to a future, but to our identity as human beings. As humanity.