Fresh & Local
The Fringe Benefits of Farming
Column #52, Published Sept 14th, 2012
There is currently a food revolution going on. Locally grown food is making permanent inroads into the food we eat, and the way we think about food.
All business owners have good days and bad days, and on bad days you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” I have asked myself that question a few times. On a bad day you had better be able to come up with a good answer.
I have given this question, “Why farm?” considerable thought. It is unlikely that we will ever get rich doing this, so it isn’t the money. But I did come up with a list of fringe benefits that come with this job, and I have come to the conclusion that whether this is a good idea or not depends on how you value those fringe benefits.
At the top of my list of fringe benefits is: we eat really well. We eat what we grow, and we take the time to cook dinner every night.
Is this really important? Consider the following.
Anthony Daniels is an English doctor and psychiatrist (now retired) who worked in both a busy inner-city hospital and a prison in Birmingham, England. He became a contributing editor to City Journal and he wrote about his experiences using the pen name Theodore Dalrymple.
Dr. Dalrymple once wrote about attitudes toward food. He often trained visiting doctors from countries like the Philippines and India. He would take them for walks through the trash-strewn streets around the hospital. Much of the street trash was from fast-food.
“I ask my third-world doctors to examine the litter closely. It gives them the impression that no Briton is able to walk farther than ten yards or so without consuming junk food. Every bush, every lawn, even every tree is festooned with chocolate wrappers or fast-food packaging.”
Dr. Dalrymple continued, “ . . . the vast food consumed in the street has deeper implications. I tell the doctors that in all my visits to the white households in the area, of which I’ve made hundreds, never – not once – have I ever seen any evidence of cooking. The nearest to this activity that I have witnessed is the reheating of prepared and packaged food, usually in a microwave. And by the same token, I have never seen any evidence of meals taken in common as a social activity . . .”
“This is not to say that I haven’t seen people eating at home; on the contrary, they are often eating when I arrive. They eat alone, even if other members of the household are present, and never at the table; they slump on a sofa in front of the television. Everyone in the household eats according to his own whim and timetable. Even in so elementary a matter as eating, therefore, there is no self-discipline but rather an imperative obedience to impulse. Needless to say, the opportunity for conversation or sociality that a meal taken together provides is lost.”
Dr. Dalrymple then contrasts this with the attitude of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent who take immense trouble over buying fresh produce and preparing meals. He concludes, “. . . the willingness of Indians to take trouble over what they eat and to treat meals as important social occasions that impose obligations and at times require the subordination of personal desire is indicative of an entire attitude towards life . . .”
Treating meals as important social occasions is indicative of an entire attitude towards life. Well said, Dr. Dalrymple. Well said.
I will continue with my list of fringe benefits next week, and I will consider, “Which kills more people: tobacco or inactivity?”
Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org