Chicken, Water, and Elections

Photo by George W. Ackerman

Oiling the Chicken Machine.” Garth Brown brings his typically thoughtful and balanced perspective to bear on the question of lab grown meat. As he points out, detailing the horrific conditions in which factory chickens are raised and butchered, “if there is no middle ground, lab-grown meat is a reasonable alternative to the current system.” Humane options are possible if we would have the courage to take them, but Brown isn’t sure how likely that is: “I cannot conceive of the economic and social changes that would be required to reshape farming into a more human endeavor. The promise of the moment is that it could be done: Advances in agriculture, the ability to collectively move far beyond mere subsistence, have created a surplus that could be used for the enrichment of both farmed land and the people fed by it. The tragedy of the moment is that, barring some radical realignment, efficiency will continue to be an end unto itself, no matter the absurdity that results.”

The Mystic Art of Gardening.” Caleb Smith explores the life and career of garden designer Russell Page and reflects on the tensions inherent in this field: “At one level, Page’s story provides a cautionary tale. His career shows how any design ethos, even a spiritual protest against empire and consumer capitalism, can become a kind of branding – distinguishing itself against the ugliness of Western, middle-class excesses only to elevate its own market prestige. To redress our social and ecological crises in a substantial way, garden-making would have to help create open, rather than private, sanctuaries for people and nature on every scale, from rewilded urban lots to sustainably managed state and national conservation areas.” (Recommended by Steven Knepper.)

Mountain Solitaire.” Paul Kingsnorth reflects on his travels in America, Edward Abbey, and his experiences at the recent FPR conference: “I’ve always liked FPR, not least because they are hard to confine within standard political or cultural boxes. At their two-day gathering in Madison, Wisconsin, I met people from left and right and both and neither, all of them united, I think, by the same kind of search for home in a homeless world that Edward Abbey wrote about decades back. Inheritors all of the Great Unsettling, we came together around an often unformed need for roots, nature and culture. All of this transcends the distracting nonsense of ‘left and right.’”

Apple Hunter’s 16-year Quest for Rare ‘Lost’ Variety was Just the Start.” Sydney Page describes Tom Brown’s work hunting old apple trees: “His hobby as an apple hunter came about 25 years ago when he and his wife, Merrikay, were at a farmer’s market in Winston-Salem, N.C., on a Saturday afternoon. Brown spotted a stand selling heritage apples — older apple varieties that have existed for multiple generations, and are often unique in their taste, texture, size and shape. Some have complex flavors, and others have multicolored flesh.”

Born-Again Engineering.” Ben D. Giudice begins with the glories of fishing for salmon and then reflects on the engineering approaches that have led to the many dams which imperil the species. Might it be possible for engineers to follow a different model, one that valued the health of humans and the rest of creation? “There exists a spiritual mystery beyond language’s capacity to describe the act of fishing—and all fishers know it. Often it is this, and not the fish, that they are really fishing for. It is something deeper, something that speaks of an intimacy with creation and, by extension, its Creator.”

Citizens of the Things at Hand.” Jason Peters isn’t a fan of presidential elections: “They strike me as undignified; they are shadowy and shady national diversions—that is, things to do, spectacles that mitigate the dull everydayness of our otherwise uneventful lives. They’re like the Super bowl, except we stage them less frequently.”

The Long Reach of the Walmart-Walton Empire.” Civil Eats is launching a series of investigations into how Walmart money shapes our entire food economy. Their influence is massive: “The company’s success has stunning implications for food and agriculture. Walmart has expanded its grocery business exponentially, now collecting one of every three grocery dollars spent in America, with colossal power to influence food prices for most goods, food policy, and the lives of food-producing regions, families, and towns. As a result, Walmart has more dominance over land use and associated climate policy than most of the non-fossil companies in the world.”

The Historic Claims That Put a Few California Farming Families First in Line for Colorado River Water.” Janet Wilson and Nat Lash narrate the history of water rights in the Imperial Valley and explain how a small number of people have come to control vast amounts of scarce water: “The Colorado River system, which supplies 35 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico, nearly collapsed last year. Even after a wet winter, it is dwindling due to overuse and climate change. But no matter how low its reservoirs sink, the historic claims of these families and all of Imperial County place them first in line — ahead of every state and major city — for whatever water remains.”

Fundamentally Religious and Catholic.” Adam Schwartz reviews Tolkien’s Faith: A Spiritual Biography by Holly Ordway and commends her account of Tolkien’s faith and imaginative art: “Through exhaustive research and insightful analysis, she recounts Tolkien’s lifelong, tested, textured engagement with Roman Catholicism, and thereby establishes how fundamental it was to his identity as a person and a writer.”

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