Recent travels having reminded me once again of the obscene good luck I have, compared with the tragic bad luck of billions of other people on this planet, here is an
OPEN LETTER TO JOHN WHITING:
I'm mulling over, but not very consciously, the problem of cuisine, agriculture, and poverty. It's a complex subject. You're right that most advances in cuisine -- I mean substantial and significant advances, not foolishness and frippery -- have been inspired by poverty. Contemporary "advances," in my opinion, aren't worth a moment's thought, let alone the energy of commentary or polemic.
Let's see if I can lay out some areas of concern:
1) too many people who have too little to eat. It's apparently a documented fact, though I don't know how you go about documenting this sort of fact, that the problem is not inability to produce. In most areas of the world the population is able to sustain itself locally. Still, this looks to me ultimately like a question of population outstripping production. The reasons:
1A) overpopulation. Don't need to discuss this further.
1B) concentration of population in areas that can't produce food (i.e. cities, poor climates, etc.) Local micro-agriculture is worth pursuing here, and a whole area of investigation is the lack of desire, or inability, of urban people to produce any of their own provender. (I do believe many huge problems, even global problems, should be addressed first at a local and even individual level).
1C) desire for food not natively available. Here we branch into two subconcerns, at least: Distribution, and Enticement. Both need addressing.
2) concentration of food production. It has been taken from individual farmers (and even individual consumers) and given to large corporations, which have their fingers also in Distribution and Enticement, and even Manufacturing and Banking. One result has been the regulation of demand and supply, which "should be" natural and organic processes growing out of intuitive transactions between individuals (or families, or tribes) and Nature, but are instead manipulated on a scale divorced from individual human attention. WTO-scaled economic forces and processes trump smaller ones.
3) imbalance of Desire and The Possible. There can be only so many truffles, so many tuna, so much Burgundy. Here there are two directions of solution:
3A) increse the Possible. Plant or discover, when possible, new truffle-fields; farm tuna; develop vineyards in hitherto marginal areas.
3B) decrease Desire. Encourage the use of truffles only on special occasions, the eating of tuna only as a main course (not in fast-food sandwiches), and so on.
4) perception of scales of importance. Charity, for example -- the extension of one's own excess toward those who are poor -- is both ultimately and immediately more honorable than Wealth. Allowance can and should be made for the ability of the ambitious and even the proud to stand "above" their neighbors, but limits should be set on just how *far* above; and the excess should go first to charity, then to the common good. Allied to this point is
5) perception of value. Self-sustainability is of greater value, both personally and societally, than is robbery, which is what accumulations of wealth at the expense of others amounts to.
Alas, John, the only way society has ever found of inculcating and even enforcing these perceptions has been through organized religion. We need a new religion of human decency and practical enabling. Care to contribute?