Courtesy Photo / Restaurant Gwendolyn
Top San Antonio chef Michael Sohocki has launched an online video series even though he doesn't personally use social media.
When you open a copy of the New York Times
today, you are looking down at the earth through a telescope, seeing the broad body of work of epidemiologists, of geneticists, of politicians and other drivers of enormous, complicated machines. This is humanity writ large and can describe vast weather patterns, the movement of the sea, the combinations and reactions of molecules.
Clearly, this is useful work. No one would argue against the idea that studying large groups of things far away has informed many decisions that have done great service to humanity.
However, this logic is a broadsword. It’s meant for huge and sweeping work. While it’s impossible to undermine the value of this perspective, applying it to our everyday lives produces a singular blindness and insensitivity that’s not only ineffective and personally unsatisfying, but dangerous.
In my professional life I have stressed the importance of personal involvement in the food that we eat, begging readers and listeners to come away from the telescope and put their hands into the real world all the way up to the elbows.
While capitulating to the industrial model of food production — large things from far away — feeds billions of people daily, it’s removed all individual character, all regional differences and cut out built-in defenses our small, non-centralized food systems used to provide. An example would be the durability of Peru’s hundreds of mixed species of potatoes versus Ireland’s monoculture of the Lumper potato, all of which were destroyed by the fungus Phytophthora Infestans in 1845 — a disaster we now call the Irish Potato Famine.
“Streamlined” models are by their very definition dependent, and risk prone. Just as our largest scope on humanity tends to lump together the young and the old, the urban and the rural, our global-industrial view of food provision has made all chicken essentially the same chicken, all corn the same corn, every farmer the same farmer. They feed fast and hard from the same river of industrial inputs — and then we feed from the same river of inputs — turning industrial commodity foodstuffs into industrial commodity people: homogenous, massive, with no control and no Plan B should anything happen to that one stream.
The telescope view, while wielding phenomenal power on the scale of countries and planets, also creates a tunnel vision to the things right in front of you — and that not only hurts you, it might even kill you. Ask Ireland.
Your information sources are no different. As I have tried to teach, it’s important for you to know stuff. In fact, you have a responsibility to know stuff: to protect your family, to preserve your culture, to know who you are.
Newspapers are the eyes and ears of our society, and small, community-focused publications such as the Current
are the only eyes and ears we have at the local level. While it’s good to know how many thousands of this and millions of that there are in the world, it’s the simple knowledge of what’s going on in the hospital across the street this morning that might just save your life — and the New York Times
can’t give you that.
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