The Pleasures of Eating – Inspiration From Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a farmer and author of more than thirty books of poetry, essays, and novels. This essay appeared in WHAT ARE PEOPLE FOR? published in 1990 by Wendell Berry.

Many times, after I have finished a lecture on the decline of American farming and rural life, someone in the audience has asked, “What can city people do?”

“Eat responsibly,” I have usually answered. Of course, I have tried to explain what I mean by that, but afterwards I have invariably felt there was more to be said than I had been able to say. Now I would like to attempt a better explanation.

I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act. Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth. Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true. They think of food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as “consumers.” If they think beyond that, they recognize that they are passive consumers. They buy what they want — or what they have been persuaded to want — within the limits of what they can get. They pay, mostly without protest, what they are charged. And they mostly ignore certain critical questions about the quality and the cost of what they are sold: How fresh is it? How pure or clean is it, how free of dangerous chemicals? How far was it transported, and what did transportation add to the cost? How much did manufacturing or packaging or advertising add to the cost? When the food product has been manufactured or “processed” or “precooked,” how has that affected its quality or price or nutritional value?

Most urban shoppers would tell you that food is produced on farms. But most of them do not know what farms, or what kinds of farms, or where the farms are, or what knowledge of skills are involved in farming. They apparently have little doubt that farms will continue to produce, but they do not know how or over what obstacles. For them, then, food is pretty much an abstract idea — something they do not know or imagine — until it appears on the grocery shelf or on the table.

Here is Berry’s list of steps to “eat responsibly:”

  • Participate in food production to the extent that you can.
  • Prepare your own food.
  • Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home.
  • Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist.
  • Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production.
  • Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.
  • Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of the food species.

Read the entire essay here.

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