Friday, May 3, 2013
I may be a bit late to the punch - a few weeks late - but I will say that something struck me about the Farm-to-Table conference in Taylor ballroom. Namely, when Chris Sullivan mentioned a trust between farmers and their customers, I thought that he really touched on one of the underlying issues of our times. Of course, trust between all kinds of "buyers" and "sellers" is certainly a good thing, and even something to expect in some circumstances. However, what made Chris' statement, one that was later echoed by Bill Parker, really riveting was that he said, in essence, that it should not be up to some regulatory agency to attempt to substitute for this trust or impose this trust on people. In other words, the USDA should not have to assure people who buy eggs that they are "Certified Organic," and people should not have to rely on otherwise-arbitrary regulations, certifications, mandates, rules, quality assurances, or any other stamp, label, or blue ribbon to assure them that they are not being swindled. What Chris was implying, if I'm not mistaken, is that the relationships that are built between and among "sellers", whether they are farmers, cooks, janitors, pen-pushers, automotive technicians, or snow shovelers, and their associated customers should be the "certification," the "quality assurance," and the "blue ribbon;" these people need to trust each other as people instead of customers seeing business owners as "self-checkout" machines and sellers arrogantly assuming that their customers are ignorant of the intricacies of their businesses. What an idea, especially in this day and age. And that's not to say that there aren't a bunch of folks who have already taken this to heart, and trust the people who are behind their food more than the labels on packages, or place their credence in the wrench-spinner more so than in his ASE Certification. However, a great many people seem to subscribe dutifully, if unthinkingly, to "Entitlement Magazine" or the like, and think that anyone who doesn't have some smarmy label, or, better yet, an endorsement from some silver spoon celebrity, on their goods is some know-nothing layperson whose products are probably dangerous because they haven't been probed by the ubiquitous fingers of the State Health Department. This is not to say that the health-inspector types don't have their hearts in the right places; rather that there needs to be a realization of the injustice of this sort of "secret handshake club" of certifications. How ironic is it that the businesses that are, at least by popular consensus, certified and "trusted" the most are some of the most corrupt and unethical organizations in the world, while the most noble, respectable, and dedicated people and their businesses are at best not recognized for their heroic efforts, and at worst stigmatized as "inferior" to the industrial giants? People, namely so-called "consumers," have become so neurotic about their own "safety" and "convenience" that they have decided to foist off any "cost" or "risk" of buying products on the rest of the world. What this means is that people in U.S. cities can buy all sorts of cheap and convenient plastic junk that, while it saves them time and money, has partially caused pollution and impoverishment in Beijing. Buying food works on the same principle. The local farmer or rancher, no matter how conservative, liberal, ultra-republican, or diehard-democrat they may be, is bound to have his or her heart in the work much more so than a gigantic "food production" farm in California would. However, people are going to have to come to grips with changing the way they make choices if the realities of our times are going to change. This isn't to say either that the world's factory workers, tractor drivers, and City Market deli men and women are bad people, because oftentimes they're worthy of the most admiration. Furthermore, I realize that we're all, myself included, in the same boat, and there's sometimes just no way to completely work around the injustice of industry and impersonal "consumerism." Also, I am not advocating that people and businesses, whether certified or not, just throw caution to the winds and forge recklessly onward with no regard for health, safety, or sustainability. However, the least we can do is make our best efforts to not feel "entitled" to things that we often take for granted. Indeed, we will all do well to at least learn a few things rather than looking at everything's "face value." Many wiser people than myself have already figured this out, and are busy doing amazing things, including working to cultivate a real sense of community and of trust among people. Even though these people, like Chris and Bill, may not have any sort of so-called "official credentials" in what they do, they are still extremely worthy of people's respect, especially since they have taken the risk of not being certified in any official manner. So, without further ado, I will leave you all to it, and hopefully we can take at least this first step towards the frequently-referenced sustainability by recognizing some of the thoughtless impersonality in our daily lives, working around some arbitrary formalities, and getting to know and trust "sellers," "buyers," and all of the really important people, including, hopefully, ourselves, whose work, though sometimes unappreciated, is no less important or awe-inspiring.