The 36 Hour Dinner Party

Michael Pollan seems to be eternally hosting interesting food experiments during which he and his friends consciously cut themselves away from industrial food production for a short period and have a philosophically meaningful feast. In this article, linked above, the idea of the wood-fired hearth and the meal as 36 hour ritual resound nicely. His dinners are wonderful, idealistic, well-intended and enlightened, even if they hint at subtle hypocrisy.  

After reading of them I do always wonder why he doesn’t push himself to the point of surpassing his little whole-food hypocrisies to reach a more definite sustainability for the benefit of his readers/students?  The conclusions I’ve drawn is that he is a) either unwilling to withstand the hardship and consequence of living a sustainable life outside of industrial externalities, b) a successful journalist achieving simple means to and end within his profession, or c) that he simply cannot find wilderness/land that is large enough or accessible enough on which to attempt it.  The first is obviously a choice of lifestyle and aversion to being dirty and uncomfortable (relatively) for the sake of a green thesis, which may or may not be true. The second is unlikely given my sense of his intentions. The latter, however, is a more profound practical limitation that he or anyone faces while attempting to eat free of industry byproduct–the requisite land for such an experience may simply be gone. The opportunity to practice as he writes may not exist anymore within the American historical experience of private property, capitalistic forces, and, ultimately, subdivision. Accessible parcels of land intact on the scale of an ecosystem have disappeared. They are, for all practical purposes, a relic of the past. Perhaps his food rules are impossible! Or perhaps the rules are possible, but only with the caveat that to fulfill them one must turn a blind eye to the industrial implementations and refined fuels neccesary to obtain them. There are yet externalities that do not appear to be accounted for within his explorations, akin, perhaps, to a person raising organic chickens in their backyard while yet driving them across town to the vet twice a week. 

Environments that are large enough and with land, clean water and wildlife enough to feed even a small group of people sustainably have been sold off over generations into smaller and smaller parcels, each one benefiting someone’s individual American Dream, yet at the very same time each one playing a small part in killing Michael Pollan’s modern ideal of sustainable food, and perhaps to some degree the future of the American dream itself, ironically. Specialization of supply chain has become a necessity in the modern landscape. It has been a classic death by a thousand cuts in America (and elsewhere) over the last 250 years–just scroll across the country from the perspective of a google satellite. Michael dreams of a past in which food and environment are still linked without a mechanical intermediary, which no longer exists, and this is exactly why his ideas are so compelling to all of us. We all feel that something is missing on some visceral level. At this point in American history, however, before his simple food rules can take shape without caveat our environment needs to in some places necessarily revert to it’s simpler, richer, historical baseline, otherwise we are left with islands of near-historical experience which sadly can only be manufactured artificially within the reality of the modern national subdivision. I’m not keeping my hopes up that reversion will happen, as reason has frequently been shown to be maligned by power and politics, but, Michael Pollan, if you’re listening, I propose that you come to Rabbit Island and help create your most sustainable meal ever.  A meal that relies to the least degree upon mechanical forces or the products of subdivision and specialization. It is as good of a place as any to further this idea, your own idea–an island with edible animals, schools of fish, room to farm and surrounding freshwater that is untarnished. Michael, this is your invitation! Don’t be a stranger! Of course we’d likely shy away from goats, pigs and bay area foraged fruits and lean towards lake trout and rabbits, but I have a feeling you won’t mind.

(The Rabbit Island idea, of course, bounds with it’s own hypocrisy in the modern American context (one generally flies to get there from New York, for one thing), but it intrinsically has maintained it’s fundamental function which Pollan celebrates–sustainable process–which is something.  It’s nature is yet intact and it has not been subdivided. If only this principle could return to the wider landscape we would have a fairer chance at genuinely eating well. Picture the new possibilities resulting from Detroit’s decline, if re-organized well. Picture the principle of eminent domain applied inversely, for the sake of food rules, etc.).    

October 6, 2010