Friday, June 6, 2008

Michael Pollan

Gardening glove hanging from a tomato plantGeez, I love Michael Pollan. Talk about a person who fulfills the role of the public intellectual.

He had an article called "Why Bother?" in the April 20 Green Issue of the New York Times (which I only just saw today... guess I need to keep up more). (You have to "join" the Times site to see the article, but it's free except the fact that you have to give them a bunch of information about yourself.)

In the article, Pollan takes on one of the questions that haunts anyone who's trying to be "part of the solution": What does it matter if I do my part to counter global warming, when we all know that there are lots of people who won't? And that I probably even have, as Pollan puts it, "an evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger" who does the opposite of every change I make.

I have to admit that the answer to the "why bother?" question is partly existential -- basically, he's saying we should bother because it's the right thing to do. But Pollan also speaks eloquently on the possibility of the viral nature of setting an example, and pulls out a few choice Wendell Berry quotes about our need to unspecialize our lives and our endeavors.

One primary way of bothering that Pollan advocates is growing some of your own food, the ultimate in "eat local." From this, he says, "You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself — that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support." In doing so, he goes on to say, "you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen. Chances are, your garden will re-engage you with your neighbors, for you will have produce to give away and the need to borrow their tools."

More and more in my neighborhood, I see people growing vegetables, frequently in the most public parts of their yards, even their boulevards. (Probably because that's where the most sun is, given the recent demise of so many trees from Dutch elm disease, but still.) To make a generalization based on observation of their homes and cars, I don't think they're doing it to save money -- I think they're doing it to be part of the solution, too.

I put in a tomato and a pepper plant for the first time myself. I know it's not much, but it's a start.

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