nikki moore

sustainability

In what is philosophy? on June 17, 2009 at 12:37 am

def. – capable of being sustained.

i just spent the evening in a fascinating series of conversations at Texas French Bread about slow food and sustainable cooking.

the ideas here are nothing new.  in fact, as Ben Willcot (co-owner and chef at TFB) pointed out, local cooking has been the historic trend, interrupted only recently by a 50 year experiment in agri-business.  

yet the questions and problems are age old.   take these two for example:

how not only to think sustainable lifestyles as something other than upper class entertainments, but also, how to act to make healthy local food affordable and feasible for people on all rungs of the economic ladder?

and beyond that, how to make food available to the seriously production and poverty stricken without mass suppliers like monsanto, and all the other food demons who drive prices low enough and build seeds which have been modified enough to survive in harsh climates?  (not ignoring, of course, the way these same companies heinously modify the same seeds for one season reproduction limits, etc…)

the latter question may seem too big and daunting for sustainability to take on.  yet when we start using words like moral, ethical, good and healthy to describe slow food practices, are we not inviting these bigger questions to take center stage?  

in his 2007 talk at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, Slavoj Zizek described sustainability as the next great -ism, following just after theism and communism (though not necessarily divorced from either one).  this ‘opiate of the masses’ is, for Zizek, the next utopian ideal.  broadening that, along with Zizek, I am wondering if sustainability is not simply the next step in late capitalism.  a way to consume still more, but now with a purpose, with a cause… with a warm conscience.  certainly, more than any other social issue i can remember in my short 32 years, if we combine sustainability with global climate change under the title of green living, nothing has had more impact.

yet, it isn’t as if we have had a lack of worthy causes; why, for example, hasn’t global hunger been enough to motivate us to change our eating and spending habits?  surely pictures of starving children on tv have made it clear that there is both a serious need and a way to help.  so, what about sustainability makes this cause so compelling that we are willing to restructure lives, routines, social structures to ‘get on board’ with its suggestions and mandates?  

cynically we could say that sustainability still allows us to spend and buy and consume for ourselves, whereas helping world hunger is the warm fuzzy feeling of doing good without the instant gratification of a new object or  a fresh local zucchini to prove it.

but is that critique just too easy?  doesn’t it miss the positive role that something purportedly negative, like raw consumer capitalism, can play in a world constantly up for re-vision?

but then, in our newfound generosity, could we say the same of monsanto?  do we want to?

on the productive side, there is so much to be said for sustainability.  slow food, buying, growing and greening locally has health benefits as well as economic benefits for local communities across all sectors of wealth and poverty.  it can be part of local (and national) healthcare solutions.  it can be part of local job generation.  it can be part of a life that thinks the means to its ends and lives accordingly.

as to the age old questions of food production costs, it is clear that locally and sustainably farmed food does and will cost more.  so how can we think modes of cost reduction that do not penalize the growers?  could organic food be subsidized just as corporate farming has been subsidized?  could charities be established to help fund partial costs for organic farming, making its produce available to a broader audience?  are these silly questions?  are there more fundamental food issues to be solved?  are there more important food related issues and items to the communities in question?  

in my rush to solve, i know tonight at TFB i got lost in the mire of impossible solutions, instead of importing one of slow foods’ strongest assets: slowness.  perhaps the subject and practice of sustainability allows these conversations and ideas to formulate in ways that we can manage, we can deal with, and, yes, we can even purchase and feel good about…

if that sustains something, if that sustains slowness, perhaps we aren’t too far afield after all?

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