The Guardian Weekly/20 July 2007
Eat What You Sow
by Kathryn Hughes
For 12 months the American novelist Barbara Kingsolver and her family committed themselves to eating only what they could plant, feed, grow, harvest and slaughter by their own hand on their Appalachian farm. If there was an occasional bare day in the Kingsolver cupboard, it would be filled by a quick trip...to the local farmers' market. Otherwise it was just them, a hen coop and more leftover zucchini than you could shake a stick at....
Right from the start, Kingsolver comes to her project with a sharp awareness of how rural economies really work and the difficult choices they require of the would-be ethical consumer. Nor for her the reverie in which most shoppers float round Whole Foods with a chic string bag reaching for vegetables whose carefully charted provenance makes them sound like fidgety racehorses. Instead, Kingsolver describes a daily programme of exhausting tough love in which she is frequently called upon to snap the neck of a chicken that she has raised as tenderly as her own children, or force her family into eating the same root vegetable five days on the trot.
Her point is this: there is no morally or aesthetically pure way to eat, simply a series of trade-offs that each of us must muddle through until we find something that allows us to sleep at night. Vegans, then, will have to count the fossil fuels they squander to keep themselves in bananas and tofu. Vegetarianism, while sounding lovely, will not work in the scrubby marginal lands where most of the world's poor live. Finally, home freezers may belch goodness-knows-what carbon nasties into the atmosphere, but they keep summer-harvested broccli on the table right through the Vitamin-D deficient days of winter. You pays your money and you takes your choice.
It all sounds preachy, but Kingsolver's secret weapon is her glorious wit. What could have been a worthy saga about an achingly nice family and their battles with potato blight becomes a richly comic narrative that manages to haul itself up just short of slapstick....
by John Gray
© 2002 by John Gray; Granta Books
“Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs.” —Lao Tzu…
“All religions, nearly all philosophies, and even a part of science testify to the unwearying, heroic effort of mankind desperately denying its contingency.”— Jacques Monod…
For Jacques Monod, one of the founders of molecular biology, life is a fluke which cannot be deduced from the nature of things, but once it has emerged, it evolves by the natural selection of random mutations. The human species is no different from any other in being a lucky throw in the cosmic lottery.
This is a hard truth for us to accept. As Monod writes, “The liberal societies of the West still pay lip-service to, and present as a basis for morality, a disgusting farrago of Judeo-Christian religiosity, scientistic progressism, belief in the ‘natural’ rights of man and utilitarian pragmatism.” Man must set these errors aside and accept that his/her existence is entirely accidental. He “must at last awake out of his millenary dream and discover his total solitude, his fundamental isolation. He must realise that, like a gypsy, he lives on the boundary of an alien world; a world that is deaf to his music and as indifferent to his hopes as it is to his suffering and his crimes.”…
Gaia theory re-establishes the link between humans and the rest of nature which was affirmed in mankind’s primordial religion, animism. In monotheistic faiths God is the final guarantee of meaning in human life. For Gaia, human life has no more meaning than the life of slime mould.
Lovelock has written that Gaia was named after the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth at the suggestion of his friend the novelist William Golding. But the idea of Gaia is anticipated most clearly in a line from the Tao Te Ching, the oldest Taoist scripture. In ancient Chinese rituals, straw dogs were used as offerings to the gods. During the ritual they were treated with the utmost reverence. When it was over and they were no longer needed they were trampled on and tossed aside: “Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs.” If humans disturb the balance of the Earth they will be trampled on and tossed aside. Critics of Gaia theory say they reject it because it is unscientific. The truth is that they fear and hate it because it means that humans can never be other than straw dogs.”…
Other animals are born, seek mates, forage for food, and die. That is all. But we humans—we think—are different. We are persons, whose actions are the result of their choices. Other animals pass their lives unawares, but we are conscious. Our image of ourselves is formed from our ingrained belief that consciousness, selfhood and free will are what define us as human beings, and raise us above all other creatures.
In our more detached moments, we admit that this view of ourselves is flawed. Our lives are more like fragmentary dreams than the enactments of conscious selves. We control very little of what we most care about; many of our most fateful decisions are made unbeknownst to ourselves. Yet we insist that mankind can achieve what we cannot: conscious mastery of its existence. This is the creed of those who have given up an irrational belief in God for an irrational faith in mankind. But what if we give up the empty hopes of Christianity and humanism? Once we switch off the soundtrack—the babble of God and immortality, progress and humanity—what sense can we make of our lives.?...
John Gray—not to be confused with the absurd but rich John Gray who wrote “ Men are From Mars, etc.”— has another toe-tapper of a book coming out on October 16. Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia. For me, this Mr. Gray is the anti-Deepak Chopra; and I like his being the anti-Deepak because we need an anti-Deepak because Deep The Chop is an oleaginous charlatan, and Mr. Gray, who sings no simplistic, hopeful tunes, isn’t. —B.L. ###
Each week we scan an ad from an actual catalog. These are real—real ads, real catalogs. Maybe they don't seem real, but they are real.
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