July 19, 2007

Pollan & Blake, The Bestial Diversity of Pleasures

"When you add together the natural gas in the fertilizer to the fossil fuels it takes to make the pesticides, drive the tractors, and harvest, dry, & transport the corn, you find that every bushel of industrial corn requires the equivalent of between a quarter & a third of a gallon of oil to grow it - or around fifty gallons of oil per acre of corn. (Some estimates are much higher.) Put another way, it takes more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of food."

-Michael Pollan, "The Omnivore's Dilemma" (2006), pg. 45-46

I've just been reading that great book, which has been quite popular round here for a year now. I had started reading it a year ago in Moe's Books, but I didn't want to spend twenty-five dollars on it (which I needed to spend on gasoline), so I had to wait for a friend, who had been given the paperback, to lend it to me. I guess I hadn't ever really realized that chemical fertilizer is made from fossil fuels, & that without the innovations of Fritz Haber, who also developed chemical weapons for WWI Germans from the same science, the world couldn't support as many humans as it does, just off of sun-fed crops.

"In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy."

-William Blake, "Proverbs of Hell" from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" (1789)

I thought of Blake's proverbs this morning when reading about crop monoculture. One of the major themes thru the proverbs is the diversity of joys, & he often employs a whole poetic bestiary to symbolize the range of unfettered pleasures possible upon this earth. "The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow", et cetera. (See also the "Arise, my Theotormon" speech from Visions of the Daughters of Albion.) Michael Pollan was describing the transition from the family farm, which grew a diversity of crops to support a small community of people & animals, & of course that diversity comes in yearly cycles to keep the soil healthy & fertile. Blake compares the cycles of agriculture to the growth of the mind/spirit (the above quote), & Pollan writes that "Planting corn on the same ground year after year brought down the predictable plagues of insects & disease". He also mentions the cliché that we are what we eat, which Blake might have agreed with (and might also argue that we are what we let ourselves become, like in "The Book of Thel", if we choose, worm-nourishing soil.) The more we eat processed food, which masks as diversity with forty-five thousand varieties in the supermarket, but actually largely comes from corn, soybeans, & chemicals, the less we allow the diversity of our spirit to reap the joys from infinite interlayering cycles. Don't forget Blake's pillar-rocking confirmation in the Marriage: "Man has no Body distinct from the Soul, for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age." Those inlets must be left open to nourish the whole, & we can't let any breach of imagination delimit the quality of what we let in.

"Faith, which the president has, reduces the complexities of history into a simple explanation, in the same way that Genesis reduces the wondrous product of billions of years of evolution into seven simple days. That is not leadership."

-Prof. James E. Coleman Jr., Duke Law School, Durham, N.C.,
from a letter to the New York Times, July 17, 2007.


Anonymous said...

The book One Straw Revolution by Fukuoku may be of interest to you. Thus far this is the most interesting entry of yours I've read...beautiful. Now what?

Anonymous said...

none of that was to say the rest of your blog entries sucked--to the contrary! This one was just particularly interesting...and beautifully written.
Permaculture! Read Fukuoku! Enlightenment! Bio-Soul-Diversity! All-One Soap!
-Dr. Bronner