On Reproduction and Deep Organics. In response to Monday’s post, The Farmwife’s Dilemma
by Ryan Lum
Whether one lauds or curses the advent of the green revolution and the cultural developments that it entailed (canned wiener and bean dinners in front of the TV come to mind), what I think has to be interrogated about the slow/local/organic/DIY food movement (let’s call it the “new food movement” [NFM]) are the assumptions it builds around biology and nature. Implicit in the ideology of the NFM is the belief that the mode of production that involves the least amount of reconfiguration is, by virtue of its being the least tampered with, the best. This applies not only to the growing, distributing and preparing of food, but also to the manner in which one chooses to give birth, breastfeed, feed and educate children. The ideology eschews alienation in every moment, asking that the products of use be known as much as possible, and that one be an active participant in each element of one’s life.
The word “wholesome” comes to mind. Not simply an indicator of health and wellbeing, it’s a word that aspires to an entire life economy. I think of permaculture, a design/life philosophy that turns existence into a series of self-perpetuating cycles, seeking to maximize self-reliance all the way to ones spirituality. Yes, this is a virtuous pursuit, but its terminal logic is that of enclosure: systems that can separate themselves from externalities are considered a success. Domesticity gains a whole new level of meaning, going from ‘keeping house’ to overseeing an entire ecosystem. Mothers are no longer simply mothers of their children, but stewards of nature.
At best, this is an extremely empowering process for all, but in its most regressive tendencies, it manifests as regulatory moralism: To not give birth at home, breastfeed, prepare every meal and homeschool ones children is to not love them.
I think the growth of NFM shows two things: first, the subversion of the second wave tenant of self –reliance—once understood as a political act of defiance against patriarchy, to becoming a good in itself. And second, the end-game of the mantra “the personal is political”: the point at which one has taken a politically informed lifestyle so far as to no longer have the time or resources to develop and engage in politics.
I outline the NFM as a monolith, and it certainly is not. But I do think that the diverse threads emerge from the common disillusionment with older political projects. The left, and the feminist movement that was a part of it, have stalled and do not appear to be ready to re-emerge in any significant form. In a time when politics becomes as banal as the choice between ‘red’ or ‘blue’ (and now ‘orange’ in the Canadian context), it is understandable that those who have hopes for a better world would turn to alternative modes of production.
The NFM is a positive response to an agricultural mode of production that is unhealthy, unsustainable, alienating and unjust for producers. However, it is not free of the danger of cooptation. Capitalism’s ability to depoliticize and commoditize alternative tendencies is already on display in the organics section of your neighbourhood supermarket. To counter this, it is politics that must not be lost track of. The balance is between attaining a mode of production that empowers and inspires while maintaining space for analysis and critique.