Food Issues Book Club - Conservationist and Agrarian from Bringing It to the Table

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Bringing It to the Table: Conservationist and Agrarian, 2002


The "sides" of conservationism and agrarianism have suffered consistent losses for decades, while a third side of agribusiness has appeared to become consistently richer.  Its wealth, though, is based in fantasy and will ultimately be self-defeating.
"Perhaps in order to survive its inherent absurdity, the third side is asserting its power as never before: by its control of politics, of public education, and of the news media; by its dominance of science; and by biotechnology, which is commercializing with unprecedented haste and aggression in order to control totally the world's land-using economies and its food supply.  This massive ascendancy of corporate power over democratic process is probably the most ominous development since the end of Word War II, and for the most part "the free world" seems to be regarding it as merely normal."
Conservationism and agrarianism also conflict with each other.  To address this conflict, wilderness preservation efforts must take into account the surrounding economies and communities.  Domesticity and wildness are connected; what is foreign to both is industrialism.  "The question we must deal with is not whether the domestic and the wild are separate or can be separated; it is how, in the human economy, their indissoluble and necessary connection can be properly maintained."

Conservationists must care about farming for the simple reason that they eat.  Small, diversified farms are more ecologically sound and provide better food, and are thus far more aligned with conservationist values than is industrial farming.  Agrarians (farmers) must also be conservationists in order to be good farmers.  Farmers who do not operate their farms in line with the laws of nature and local adaptation "increase the ecological deficit that is being charged to the future and will ultimately render their operations unsustainable (and unprofitable)."
"Good farmers, I believe, recognize a difference that is fundamental between what is natural and what is man-made.  They know that if you treat a farm as a factory and living creatures as machines, or if you tolerate the idea of "engineering" organisms, then you are on your way to something destructive and, sooner or later, too expensive.  To treat creatures as machines is an error with large practical implications."
The "sides" of the conservationist and the agrarian are really only at odds with each other when viewed through the industrial view of what the world is.  "Conservationists have got to know and deal competently with the methods of economics of land use.  Land users have got to recognize the urgency, even the economic urgency, of the requirements of conservation."  Only in uniting their efforts to fight industrialism can either "side" succeed in not being crushed by "the corporate totalitarianism which is now rapidly consolidating as 'the global economy.'"


In this essay, Berry touches on a concept near and dear to the vegan community.  As vegans, we love to claim that one can't be an environmentalist and eat meat.  This is very nearly true: in point of fact, one can't be an environmentalist and eat industrial meat - without being a big ol' hypocrite, that is.  One could, plausibly, source meat from the types of small idyllic farms which Berry describes and be considered environmentally conscious.  (The ethics or morality of meat eating don't determine whether it's environmentally sustainable.)

Of course, given industrial meat's prevalence - over 99% of all meat commercially available last I checked - perhaps this qualification is rendered redundant.  And yet I still feel compelled to make it, pedanticness notwithstanding.  I believe it behooves the vegan community to make wholly accurate statements.  When we overgeneralize we leave veganism open to easy arguments that allow people to continue to justify the use of animals as food, thus undermining our ultimate cause.


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