My latest NYT piece appeared yesterday, and in the last 12 short hours since then, I have been bombarded with email from Agricultural Economists, Agribusinessmen, Deep Thinkers (“what do we mean by ‘farm’, anyway?”), Angry-men-sans-affiliation, as well as my usual helping of incoherent threats of sexual violence that pepper the epistolarity of Women With Opinions On The Internet.
You’d be amazed at the number of people (all men so far) who stayed up late last night writing to explain to me that FARMING IS JUST FINE. IT’S FINE. IT’S ALL FINE.
Which is all very well and good except NOPE IT’S NOT FINE. My work in plant biology and environmental science has me worried about (among other things) the very high rates of food waste and food-intake-related chronic disease in America, and I don’t think that we’ll ever make progress on these issues until agriculture joins the conversation as a primary driver. Also, the nonsensical nature of burning fuel in gas tanks to grow and harvest corn, in order to ferment the corn into fuel, that we then burn in gas tanks — should be recognized for the Möbius strip that it is.
Disclosure: my family has never farmed, though I had a grandfather who slaughtered hogs for a living, and who used to periodically threaten to move the family ‘up north’ and take up potato farming, whilst waving the tattered deed to five acres north of St. Cloud. This threat was enough to strike fear deep into the hearts of his wife and children, which included my mother — which is to say that farming has never been easy. I am very grateful to the farmers that have taken the time to share their lives with me over the course of my education, and the ones that continue to do so through the email. Perhaps they are not representative of all farmers, but that’s the nature of interpersonal relationships.
A lot of readers also told me that I make them have a sad whenever I write, and why must that be? To this I respond, welp, looking back on the past is an inherently melancholy practice, as is driving long distances while you’re hungry. For what it’s worth, I am always somehow cheered by a joke told to me since I was a child, and probably to others for decades before that:
A farmer wins the lottery. The news station asks him what he’s going to do with the money. He answers, “Oh I’ll probably just keep farming until it’s all gone.”
I believe that there will always be a group of patriots driven to feed their fellow citizens. I think it’s a relic trait from the earliest human communities, part of a yearning to take care of each other. The amount of crap that these patriots will put up with for the privilege of serving is astonishing, as we’ve seen decade after decade since the dawn of time. I’m not a farmer and I don’t pretend to know how farmers “should” vote, but I do believe that it makes sense to address farming interests seriously and comprehensively during, what was after all, a campaign for the highest political office in the nation. We didn’t see this in 2016, and we haven’t seen it for more than a decade.
Do you have a super-angry response to this? For Heaven’s sake, get thee over to the comments section of this blog without delay!