Saturday, August 9, 2008
Feel It In Your Heart
Friday night I dozed in a garden and got bitten by bugs. The garden was in Queens at P.S. 1 in their gravel filled courtyard that's been transformed into an urban farm of sorts, a giant structure of cardboard tubes rising above our heads growing a variety of produce suited to the intense sunlight beaming down on industrial L.I.C. It's kind of embarrassing but I had no idea that this thing was here. Or there, actually. The only reason I was at P.S. 1 was to hear a lecture by Michael Pollan and though completely appropriate it was a surprise to discover the rows of fresh greens, tomatoes and zucchini plants (shudder). The structure is supposedly built with environmental consideration and all the building materials are completely recyclable- which is more than you can say about most art right there. Here's the website page describing the project in flowery language:
One thing this page didn't answer for me was how do they pick the stuff at the top? Also how do the chickens fit in? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they do. What is life without animals crammed into every nook and crevice? An empty shell. If anyone has answers to my first two questions please pass them along.
Disorder and lackadaisy were pretty much the mode of the event and it wasn't long before me and my friend Zach were shotgunning free wine at the 'private' reception. Michael Pollan sat behind a table in the corner signing books and chatting up his guests. I'd seen him arrive in the courtyard and giggled like a school girl. If you don't know who M.P. is let me introduce you to a truly engaging writer. He's the author of Botany of Desire, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and most recently In Defense of Food. All of these books are about food issues in America and to some degree across the world and they're all pretty enjoyable to read. Some of Pollan's 'big ideas' that run through out his books, in a very general list, are how plants have in many ways domesticated us by appealing to our desires the same way a flower manipulates a bird or bee with its color and scent, how corn has crept into our food supply across the board and now our cars as well, how we view nature as something that must be slowly depleted for us to survive and the alternative systems of farming that give back to the land in ways that make it richer, and how nuttycakes people are about what they put into their mouth without the strength of regional diets to give us some direction (we can get anything anytime! even when it's not in season or from this hemisphere! what do I cram in my mouth?!).
What to cram in my mouth is a pretty consuming question for me so naturally I'm one of Michael Pollan's many groupies. Rosy cheeked from wine and sunshine we hustled up to the lecture hall, a big circular room with a spinning mirror on the ceiling. Zach and I took seats on the already crowded floor since chairs had long ago been staked out. When the crowd was ambling around the courtyard it had seemed like a sparse turnout but now we were crammed thigh to thigh in a way very reminiscent of a fire hazard. The mirror reflected the crush down on us and the room heated up to pressure cooker levels. In the mirror I could see a few other friends seated in the front row. I waved.
Finally the man himself appeared! I have to say at first I was nervous. M.P. built up his speech slowly, recounting his first stoner musings out in his garden watching bees hover around his apple blossoms which went a little something like this (paraphrasing): Hey, bees think they're important but really the flowers are making the bees work for them...whoa, what if the potatoes I'm planting are making ME work for THEM by being so tasty? Fuuuuck...We are all both Subjects and Objects.
Which is all basically the basis for Botany of Desire and the overheated crowd was obviously having this collective thought, "We know, already! Inspire us with something new, ok? It's hot as fuck in here." So he did.
"It's one thing to know something. It's another thing to feel it in your heart," said Michael, splaying his hand across his chest. Essentially he was saying that many of us know what industrial farming is doing to us both ecologically and as a society but until you feel how important it is you can't make a change in your own life or the world. That's where art and writing come in, the tools to bring the meaning of a situation from people's heads to their hearts. Which is why he was at P.S. 1. It's called SYNERGY.
I say that without sarcasm. I say that with very little sarcasm. Michael Pollan's books, particularly The Omnivore's Dilemma, were truly the catalyst for feeling all this organic farming shizzy in my heart. Perhaps it had been building from a thousand different experiences throughout my life, from eating organic fruit and vegetables growing up to working in a neighborhood garden all through junior high and high school, but without his writing I might not have reached a place where I wanted to make meaningful choices about what I eat and also how I live. One aspect of his work you can't help but notice is the intensity of his desire to know. There are so many things we let pass by without challenging their origin, meaning and affect on us because it's such a burden to find out and then carry the weight of that knowledge around. Michael Pollan wants to know everything and he wants to share it. That kind of curiosity is incredibly moving.
Anyway, after the lecture we went out to dinner with a couple other attendees at a restaurant in Fort Greene called iCi that buys fresh local food and cooks it verrrry deliciously. They buy some of their produce from Added Value, a program that grows produce in Red Hook with city kids as a way of connecting them to healthier living and eating choices. It was a beautiful evening, cool and breezy out in iCi's garden/yard where I was also bitten by bugs. We ate from each other's plates, appreciating the flavor and the company.
Here's a link to Added Value, they're pretty cool: