Whole Foods and an Unprocessed Future

Pen and Ink Floyd Co Barn

Caption: ink drawing of an old Floyd County barn by Fred, from photograph and instruction by Ron Campbell. 

While this decrepit and formerly-functional structure is more appealing than the metal building that will some day replace it, older is not always better. But wiser is always better than more ignorant. And we had best wise up, and waste no time about it. We are running out of turning room.

Yes, here is one of those open-ended conversations not suitable for this blog, or for many at all perhaps, and better had face to face over a glass of wine in a quiet place.

For starters, since much is made of the local food system here in Floyd, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: AN EATER’S MANIFESTO recommends “don’t buy any food you see advertised.”

While those foods contain some percentage of what started out being nothing but animal or vegetable substance (ignoring for now the circumstances under which they may have been grown or harvested, packaged or shipped), by the time it reaches your mouth, it has been–the word is–processed.

Our entire economy and way of relating to the world has been processed–shrink-wrapped by the powers that have been to make the first-world economic model appear more nutritious than it really is; disguised so as to hide the embedded toxins, the conversation about these shiny things shrewdly directed so that we are mesmerized by the colors and shapes on the box and don’t care so much about the empty calories of the FrankenFood inside it.

Many of us know we’ve almost reached the end of this pernicious process, and we acknowledge that even changes like whole foods, sustainability and recycling are lipstick on a pig.

We have allowed Profit to be the whole story, while People and Planet have lost their voices. Wendell Berry touches on this in his Poem on Hope. [He reads this to Bill Moyers, 5 min YouTube.]

Because we have not made our lives to fit
Our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
The streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
Then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
Of what it is that no other place is, and by
Your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
Place that you belong to though it is not yours,
For it was from the beginning and will be to the end
Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
Your neighbors in it:

I don’t know if I can be a cook in this kitchen, but I’m sure looking at a lot of interesting recipes that offer the possibility of a whole, real and reimagined way forward. More and more of us are hungry for real substance, real nutrients, metaphorical and literal–on our plates, in our schools, churches and neighborhoods.

In the end, any new beginning will require the remaking of our lives to fit our places, from the local to the global.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I find the state of things so depressing these days and wonder what kind of world our grandchildren will know. Between food and water and the environment and superbugs (did you see the Frontline piece Tuesday?) ….it kind of paints our economic battles as the least of our worries. Of course its all connected, I know. On a brighter note, I love Michael Pollan and have read everything he has written. Especially enjoyed A Place of My Own, dealing with his experience building a small writing shed. I think you would like all of his books.

  2. Good day Fred…Love the artwork. I once loved to sketch but never quite got into the discipline of pen and ink. I always ended up with a blotch of black in the middle of the image.

    I would love to sit across the table with the glass and dis-cuss the nature of the American food industry.

    I drive around my county and see thousands of cattle… All eating grass. But try to find some grass fed beef at any of the grocery stores or butcher shops. You may be lucky to find some grass fed hamburger shipped in from out of state,but local meat is a thing from another century.

    I do have access to locally grown vegetables though. Not organic, but grown just down the road and sold at a reasonable price in the family farm store.

    And yea, I own most of Pollan’s work too.