Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Friday, September 23, 2016

An Essay on Food in Tank Magazine

I'd given up writing about food until these kind people asked me for something. There's a good reason for that: all histories of consumerism are really not great. I explain why. 


Dunkel Zahn said...

Lovely. It's a rare occurence to read philosophical writing that makes me cry. Your writing has that quality, Tim. Maybe we need a new word for theory? Theary? Theartheory? Going all James Joyce here. Weirdness. Thanks anyways, keep inspiring.

- Matt W.

John T. Maher said...

Enjoyed it. More prosaic than the usual harsh critique on offer elsewhere.

Sent to a student doing her PhD dissertation on Victorian food mores to inspire her to think beyond the mere historicity of her topic.

Nick Guetti said...

Yeah! A very poignant and gentle opt-out of the usual politics of superiority employed by so many other people who don't understand that things aren't what they seem to be.

I do think, though, that what things seem to be can often hold clues as to what they are that can't be found elsewhere.

I'm a little surprised at the return to idealism. Reading the whole article over again, what ends up being said is that the only choices to be made are choices between choices. This doesn't explain why some choices seem more effective than others at achieving harmony, which I guess I'm defining as a kind of participatory enjoyment of an ecological kind--choices that enrich the range of available choices, I guess is what I mean. And although everything may be a loop, working in eco-design teaches you that there are longer and shorter loops, and these lengths are attended by very different qualities for the beings that ride on them. A theory of ACTION that doesn't depend on ACTIVE and PASSIVE is either too short a loop to see, or too long to make any use of in a human timescale. Wishing that some things were not more adaptable to ecologies inhabited by a diverse range of beings than others does not make it so. Nor does thinking it, saying it or choosing to live by it. These things include diets: the choices we make about what we eat (and yes, which things we might eat that we allow to choose US: whether we choose them or they choose us is beside the point).

Some foods are actually bad for you, aka worse than others. A gluten molecule isn't an opinion, it's a physical body that has certain properties (no matter what anybody thinks) when eaten by organisms who are used to eating actual food. This is empirically verifiable, and not dependent on whether you think food is just a bunch of nutrients or a wider congeries of colluding object-bodies. Some of what you eat (aka, YOU) is also bad, worse or better for the ecosystems you depend on, independent of what you happen to choose to think about it. This is understood by the object-dependent thinking of the people who founded education systems like Waldorf/Steiner and Montessori, which is that kids just need to be allowed to experience the nonverbal body for a while at early ages, so that they never get fooled into thinking that other bodies are dependent on our ideas.

If you want to say that all such choices are consumerist, I think it needs to be explained why some choices undermine the very survivability (at least in certain locations) of consumerism more than others do. You can't argue we're all going to die anyway and that's the end of consumerism, because that ignores the fact that consumerism is presently languishing in certain locations in which particular choices are made and acted upon: if these choices are more widespread (a question of political will no more complicated than the reducing of such choices to axial-age religious retweets), they translate to the weakening of consumerism writ large. Just because no objects are more natural than others, does that mean that object X never, ever has more of an effect on another object than object Y? If you say yes, then why it seems otherwise needs an explanation.

D. E.M. said...

This: "and I am sorry to be the devil, I cannot help it – there are some ecological chemicals hidden away within consumerism, some experiential chemicals that will help us figure out what that ecological future will be like. "