Comment: Petrini’s call to “return to the fields”   Leave a comment

In a recent commentary published in an insert of the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, Maurizio Molinari casts an uncritical eye towards Slow Food Carlo Petrini’s “American blitz.” Petrini, in the days leading up to the recent Salone del Gusto in Turin, made a whirlwind tour of the United States to encourage the youth of America to “return to the fields” (quite literally) and to build a “New Global Network of Sustainable Communities.”

It’s a rather thankless job to be the curmudgeon, but a few details seemed to merit a more critical eye. First, the students of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton universities (the three noted in the article) are rather unlikely to “return to the fields,” in fact rather unlikely to have been there in the first place. It seems also a little naïve to think that a bunch of college kids could create, ex nihilo, a global network out of their local production. This is fact is another seeming contradiction in Petrini’s program: sustainability, at least if one is concerned with a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, necessarily means local food production, distribution, and consumption. It’s an open question whether farmers can sell their authentic agricultural products across oceans and still maintain the pretense of sustainability.

Petrini also finds the source of our current global malaise in the current system of agriculture, and suggests a return to the model used by the first colonists and enouraged by the Founding Fathers of the United States. The idea that the colonial methods of agriculture were sustainable was put to rest over thirty years ago in Changes In The Land, but this point obviously has not as yet sunken in. While small-scale, organic agriculture has fields that have a much higher degree of biodiversity than their industrial counterparts, they are virtual wastelands compared to any two hundred yard square piece of forest. Agriculture–the razing of all trees and intensive cultivation of a small number of usually annual plants–is a massive assault on biodiversity. Organic and industrial differ only by degree.

There is much that Petrini said that is praiseworthy; his push for farmer’s markets is perhaps the best of the ideas listed by Molinari. But suggesting the near-impossible (that Ivy League grads become farmers en masse) or idealizing the never-was (colonial-era biodiversicators) is not a helpful contribution to getting out of our current alimentary mess.  ZN

Grazie a Daniela Buglione per la segnalazione.

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Posted November 8, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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