Intelligence, Culture, Food
Grazin’ at Kuahiwi Ranch
To be honest, I’m not so interested in food – as a commodity or a resource or even as a way to feed those who are hungry. What I mean is, I’m not so interested in the numbers – numbers of calories, pounds of product consumed, percentage of locally produced products, and so on. All of those are necessary and useful numbers. I have to pay attention to numbers because I have to produce so many pounds of beef each week in order to meet my customer’s needs consistently, or my business fails. So, I’m not saying that numbers are unimportant. Far from it. But the numbers are not what interest me, what keep me going day after day.
What interests me is culture. Not the kind of culture that you go to museums and theaters to experience, nor even the kind of culture that distinguishes the way of life of an Italian, or a Thai, or an American. What interests me is the culture – the values and beliefs – that structure the relationship between us human people and the other non-human people. I know, right there, I might lose some people who will say, “wait, humans are the only kind of people.” I get laughed at a lot for “forgetting” that most humans only recognize other humans as people. Which is fine, you know, it’s all just words.
Other people might say, “Hey, you’re a rancher. How can you recognize other animals as people and still raise cows for food. Send them to slaughter every week.” And all I can say is: It’s not an easy thing, but we all eat and get eaten, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect the cows and the grass that they eat, and the soil that the grass eats, and which will eat me someday, hopefully.
What interests me is the intelligence that is embedded in the food that I produce. A lot of us are interested in knowing where our food comes from, in knowing the story of the food that we are eating: who raised it and where, and what were the methods used. And that is exactly the story of the intelligence that went into the making of that food, the culture, the values, the relationships that were cultivated and shaped between human, plant, animal, soil, air and water.
I hope that in the future more people will be interested in actually being involved in, rather than just knowing about, the intelligence that makes food. Despite what we might tell ourselves about the absolute dominance of human will and technology, it takes more than human intelligence to make food, it takes partnerships with the non-human realm.
Ultimately, it comes down to whether we intend to continue on our path of treating the world as if it is an object which we have every Gods-given right to exploit as we please in the name of civilization, the economy, or some other supposedly higher purpose. Or do we recognize that in treating the world like a dumb object, not only do we disrespect the world, which is a terrible thing in itself, but we also create dumb systems that are incredibly fragile and vulnerable to disruption exactly because they are simplistically mechanical in conception, design, and execution. A dumb system might be more efficient in generating numbers, but it is also less resilient than a system which incorporates the intelligence of four billion years of life on this planet.
If we treat cows like dumb eating and meat or milk-making machines, we miss out on their capacity to restore soils that have been depleted by monoculture cropping, to eat forages that human’s can’t digest; we miss out on that species multi-million year relationship with the grasses. If we treat plants like dumb solar-energy-converting, calorie-making mechanisms (which is miracle enough) we miss out on their ability to process waste materials, to build soil, to create microclimates, to form the complex web of relationships that they can form with microbial, animal, and other plant species.
If we treat ourselves like dumb consumers and dumb employees then we get strip malls and dead zones and unemployment statistics, and we miss out on the chance to make something beautiful and useful with our own hands for our community and in relationship with the non-human realm.
We miss out and we feel that loss, although we might have no words to name it.
I read recently in Lapham’s Quarterly that we human people do not yet have scientific instruments sensitive enough to measure the olfactory capabilities of dogs (much less the philosophical ability to comprehend the full implications of that olfactory intelligence); that dogs are capable of registering parts per a trillion, which is the limits of what our instruments can register at this point. We don’t really understand them, what they are capable of, and they have been our closest non-human companions for tens of thousands of years.
The vision of agriculture that interests me (and the culture and civilization that this agriculture will be the foundation for) is one that respects and respectfully incorporates the intelligence that has evolved on this earth, rather than blindly wiping it out in pursuit of simplistic, mechanical goals such as maximum return on investment and the maximum efficiency of a dumbed-down system.
Mechanistic rationality is a tool that we have developed to interact with our environment: to understand, predict, order and manipulate the world that we can perceive. Having grown out of the European Enlightenment, that powerful suite of ideas rooted in a vision of human dignity, liberty and equality, it has achieved much that is benign.
But it is a limited tool. It is blind to the non-conceptual, to the non-human, to the weave of life. It is blind, really, to life and the instincts and drives, the hungers and thirsts, the bodies and beings that make up life.
As such this world view favors machines, because machines are rational. This is the world view that is and has been dominant for some time. It is both dangerous and incredibly useful. It is a world view that has provided us humans with unquestionable benefits – modern medicine, widespread, if not universal, prosperity. Comfort and security of a kind, but also blindness, dullness, ugliness. Ugliness is rampant and it is a toxic ugliness, not merely aesthetic. It is the ugliness of less life, of sterilized environments, sterilized in order to maintain the civilized environment that we have become accustomed to, that we consider our birthright, and which is, insidiously, killing us. Killing us with diabetes and obesity and pollution.
But such ugliness is not inevitable. We can develop and rediscover another strand of culture: one that sees and respects the intelligence of the non-human realm, of the ecosystems and environment of which we are just a part; one that will uncover new kinds of talent and intelligence within our own kind – intelligence that loves life.
This article is reprinted with the kind permission of She Grows Food, a website dedicated to promoting locally grown food in Hawai'i, particularly food that is produced by women. See http://shegrowsfood.com
Michelle Galimba lives and ranches in Ka'u, where she is a mom and a writer, among many other things. For a full profile, see http://shegrowsfood.com/meet/michelle-galimba-of-kuahiwi-ranch/.