2 books & a letter
Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writers Life by Kathleen Norris. Books & Culture has a good review:
"Ever since Norris first encountered the word acedia in early monastic writings twenty years ago, she has been mulling it over, wiping the dust off this forgotten concept. In the book that grew out of that preoccupation, she examines her life—and her marriage in particular—in order to illustrate acedia’s characteristics, dangers, and cures, contemplating the many facets of this vice with the help of monks, psychologists, philosophers, poets, novelists, and pharmacologists…
The Greek word acedia simply means ‘a lack of care.’ But as Norris excavates the concept we find that it is deeper and richer. She rightly traces the Christian discussion to the 4th-century ascetic Evagrius Ponticus and his list of eight ‘thoughts’ that characterize the human condition. One of the eight—acedia—was the ‘noonday demon’ (Ps. 91:6) that attacked the monk who kept checking the angle of the sun to see if it was time for the afternoon meal as he languished in the tedium of what seemed like a 50-hour day."
Marilynne Robinson’s new book is Home. Home picks up some of the same
characters from her 2005 Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead (also mentioned
in a sermon by Bill this summer). Listen to Robinson talk about her
work here. There’s also a great interview with her at the Paris Review.
Finally, for those of you following the food posts on this blog,
Michael Pollan has written an open letter to the next "farmer-in-chief"
in which he analyzes the current food situation in the U.S. and then
makes recommendations for how the soon-to-be-elected administration can
deal with it. His closing recommendation is certainly compelling:
"The choice of White House chef is always closely watched, and you would
be wise to appoint a figure who is identified with the food movement
and committed to cooking simply from fresh local ingredients. Besides
feeding you and your family exceptionally well, such a chef would
demonstrate how it is possible even in Washington to eat locally for
much of the year, and that good food needn’t be fussy or complicated
but does depend on good farming. You should make a point of the fact
that every night you’re in town, you join your family for dinner in the
Executive Residence — at a table. (Surely you remember the Reagans’ TV
trays.) And you should also let it be known that the White House
observes one meatless day a week — a step that, if all Americans
followed suit, would be the equivalent, in carbon saved, of taking 20
million midsize sedans off the road for a year. Let the White House
chef post daily menus on the Web, listing the farmers who supplied the
food, as well as recipes.
Since enhancing the prestige of farming as an occupation is critical to developing the sun-based regional agriculture we need, the White House should appoint, in addition to a White House chef, a White House farmer. This new post would be charged with implementing what could turn out to be your most symbolically resonant step in building a new American food culture. And that is this: tear out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden.
When Eleanor Roosevelt did something similar in 1943, she helped start a Victory Garden movement that ended up making a substantial contribution to feeding the nation in wartime. (Less well known is the fact that Roosevelt planted this garden over the objections of the U.S.D.A., which feared home gardening would hurt the American food industry.) By the end of the war, more than 20 million home gardens were supplying 40 percent of the produce consumed in America. The president should throw his support behind a new Victory Garden movement, this one seeking “victory” over three critical challenges we face today: high food prices, poor diets and a sedentary population. Eating from this, the shortest food chain of all, offers anyone with a patch of land a way to reduce their fossil-fuel consumption and help fight climate change. (We should offer grants to cities to build allotment gardens for people without access to land.) Just as important, Victory Gardens offer a way to enlist Americans, in body as well as mind, in the work of feeding themselves and changing the food system — something more ennobling, surely, than merely asking them to shop a little differently.
I don’t need to tell you that ripping out even a section of the White House lawn will be controversial: Americans love their lawns, and the South Lawn is one of the most beautiful in the country. But imagine all the energy, water and petrochemicals it takes to make it that way. (Even for the purposes of this memo, the White House would not disclose its lawn-care regimen.) Yet as deeply as Americans feel about their lawns, the agrarian ideal runs deeper still, and making this particular plot of American land productive, especially if the First Family gets out there and pulls weeds now and again, will provide an image even more stirring than that of a pretty lawn: the image of stewardship of the land, of self-reliance and of making the most of local sunlight to feed one’s family and community. The fact that surplus produce from the South Lawn Victory Garden (and there will be literally tons of it) will be offered to regional food banks will make its own eloquent statement.
You’re probably thinking that growing and eating organic food in the White House carries a certain political risk. It is true you might want to plant iceberg lettuce rather than arugula, at least to start. (Or simply call arugula by its proper American name, as generations of Midwesterners have done: “rocket.”) But it should not be difficult to deflect the charge of elitism sometimes leveled at the sustainable-food movement. Reforming the food system is not inherently a right-or-left issue: for every Whole Foods shopper with roots in the counterculture you can find a family of evangelicals intent on taking control of its family dinner and diet back from the fast-food industry — the culinary equivalent of home schooling. You should support hunting as a particularly sustainable way to eat meat — meat grown without any fossil fuels whatsoever. There is also a strong libertarian component to the sun-food agenda, which seeks to free small producers from the burden of government regulation in order to stoke rural innovation. And what is a higher “family value,” after all, than making time to sit down every night to a shared meal?"