Small Streams


Our Thoreau Problem
July 18, 2010, 10:07 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

My children gave me a copy of Wendell Berry’s On Farming and Food for my birthday. Michael Pollan wrote the introduction and acknowledges his debt to Berry for his prophetic writings on food, land, and community. He specifically writes how Berry criticizes a breezy conservationist stance. Henry Thoreau’s writings seem most beguiling: how a swamp is more admirable than a garden, and so on. Berry counters that all conservationists eat. Pollan writes . . .

My Thoreau problem is another name for the problem of American environmentalism, which has had much more to say about leaving nature alone than about how we might use it well.

As pithy as the saying “Take only pictures. Leave only footprints.” is. It’s as much a legacy of commons-busting, patrician industrialists as it is of wilderness advocates, or whatever intersection of convenience between the two of them that has developed over the years. I look forward to a growth of autonomous areas becoming farms, vegetable graffiti, and user groups dedicated to seed-bombing and urban gleaning, tempered of course by a rich helping of Wendell Berry on food, land, and community.

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