Mr. Henry is not a person of faith. For him, ideology is bunk, and religion is über-bunk. Nevertheless, even cynical hounds have to decide what to eat.
The final sentences of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma read:
But imagine for a moment if we once again knew, strictly as a matter of course, these few remarkable things: What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what, in a true accounting, it really cost. We could then talk about some other things at dinner. For we would no longer need any reminding that however we choose to feed ourselves, we eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and what we’re eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world.
At the instant of this writing Mr. Henry is snarfing down blue corn tortilla chips.
Although organic and without trans fats, these are surely more the product of industry than of nature. Reflecting upon his personal feeding habits, he tries not to despair, for he has not forgotten that despair is one of the seven deadly sins, right up there alongside gluttony.
Should we structure our eating around belief systems? Don’t we do that already even if we pretend we don’t? Isn’t what we call culture or tradition in fact a set of rather arbitrary beliefs, many ungrounded in logic or science?
Cuisine marks culture more distinctly than any other lifestyle choice. It’s the most conservative cultural trait. (Japanese-American families keep umeboshi in the fridge no matter what fashions they wear, music they listen to, or ideologies they favor.)
Organic is good. Local is better. Taste should be your guide. The perfect, most harmonious marriage of these virtues, however, is sustainability.
Eating from a farm like Polyface that achieves a balance of beast and field, of nature and nurture, in which each creature and each plant achieves its full biological potential, is the holy grail of sustainability. The land improves, our health improves, the beasts live happy lives (right up to their moment of demise), and the energy to run the place comes almost completely from the sun.
Prince Charles started talking about these issues years ago. Although in the Diana legend Charles has been cast down as the frosty fogey, the emotional retard, it may come to pass in the long judgement of history that Princess Diana’s media successes will wane and Charles’ push for sustainable development will rise.
Now that he has converted, Mr. Henry feels obligated to pursue the virtuous life. As soon as he finishes this marvelous bag of chips, he will begin casting about for information regarding local farms in the New York City area. (Query to the faithful: Must the convert lead an impeccable existence, or merely a good one? Temptation is everywhere. Sustainable farm products are scarce.)