De-commodification for the sake of soul

New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof figured out the central problem with modern industrial agriculture (global edition 24-9-09).

“It’s not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all”, he writes, “more fundamentally, it has no soul.”

Where the rural is nothing more than an effect of capital the soul that connects people to land and nature disappears.

The soul returns in those practices which are not aimed at abstract quantities but at particular qualities. Following Robert Pirsig, quality, or soul, cannot be defined but can be mutually experienced, in this case, by both producer and consumer.

This means that we have to “de-commodify” as an invited farm couple of Country Natural Beef explained a the Iowa Regional Food Systems Working Group meeting (see earlier blog).

“We were tired of being price takers” they said. “We have learned to seek buyers and work price and quality with them. It is based on transparent costing and a reasonable return. It just is all about relationships.”

The obvious critique is that we cannot feed the world with piecemeal examples of re-connection. But our current global industrial Ag model might just stifle our imagination of what is thinkable as an alternative Larry Busch remarked in his presentation at the ESRS meeting.

What if we left conveyor-belt-linear-thinking behind and instead adopted principles of feed-back or metabolic cycles in our designs, policies and innovations and infrastructure? Rightly so, Thomas L. Friedmann argued in the same edition of New York Times that our solutions to climate change, poverty, food security and biodiversity loss need to be as integrated as nature itself.